4.3.5 The Wardrobe of Holiness: Our Defense
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 3.5
The Wardrobe of Holiness: Our Defense
I think we have pretty well established, at this point, the symbolic significance of clothing in the Bible. From the moment Adam and Eve “discovered” their nakedness, God has been using what we wear to teach us about His plan of redemption. First, it covers our shame. What it’s made of takes on a symbolic life of its own as well. Our accessories—gemstones and jewelry, shoes, hats (crowns), belts, and the like—were recruited to teach us even more. And colors, whether applicable to clothing or not, proved to be a fascinating study in how God communicates with us.
But we’re still not done. There are several places in scripture where God specifies someone’s “wardrobe options” based on who he is or what he does. The most prominent of these are the attire of a soldier in the spiritual battle, and that of Israel’s High Priest. But even the simple act of putting something on, or taking it off, takes on symbolic significance in God’s word.
Putting on… Putting off
In the wake of their sin, Adam’s and Eve’s reaction to their feelings of guilt was to cover their nakedness—to put on clothing, even though there was no precedent for such a thing. Yahweh’s counter-solution—for them to put on the skins of innocent animals that He had slain and prepared for them in place of the fig-leaf loincloths they had made—confirmed their instincts: sin needed to be covered. So let us consider the act of “putting on” or “putting off” one thing or another, for it is a concept we see scattered throughout scripture.
In the oldest writings in the Bible, we hear Job defending himself against the accusations of his friends, who had posited that his misfortune was due to some hidden, heinous sin in his life. No, he says: “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me. My justice was like a robe and a turban.” (Job 29:14) He’s not talking about donning literal clothing, here, but in context he’s referring to a lifelong habit of doing good deeds for the less fortunate—and having been materially blessed by God as a result. He had never ceased performing the good works, so he was puzzled as to why his own prosperity had mysteriously vanished.
“Putting on righteousness as a garment” is a concept we see again toward the end of the Bible. John writes, “And to her [the bride of Christ] it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8) The subtle, underlying truth of the matter (in both cases) is that our good works, as such, do not save us. Rather, they are opportunities—given to us to do because we are saved. To be counted as “good,” they are something we must “put on.” That is, they are attributed to us; our righteousness is imputed, ascribed to us, not earned. In fact, in God’s eyes our deeds of righteousness, if done in our own strength and for our own purposes, are (as Isaiah put it) like “filthy rags.” It is only our relationship with Yahweh, through Christ, that invests our deeds with virtue or value.
Think of it like this. We believers are children in God’s house: He is our Father. As such, our good deeds are recognized, congratulated, and even rewarded. If we are sincerely trying to please Him, even though we’re not perfect, He acknowledges our efforts—happy to put our childish stick figure drawing, or our hard-won B-minus report card, up on the celestial refrigerator. It’s not the accomplishment itself that Father God is applauding, but our enthusiastic participation in the life of the family.
Perhaps this is easier for me to see than most folks, because my wife and I adopted several mentally and physically challenged children—as well as a few really gifted ones. We were happy when our kids lived up to their God-given potential, and were disappointed when they did not. But that potential varied wildly, and we knew it. Other kids lived in the neighborhood, of course, and some of them, I’m sure, were quite bright and industrious. But did they earn a spot beneath one of our coveted refrigerator magnets? No—because they weren’t our kids. They belonged to somebody else. We fed and clothed our own kids, not other people’s. And likewise, we forgave, disciplined, and encouraged only our own kids—not the neighbors’ children.
Don’t take this the wrong way. We are to be concerned with the welfare of the disadvantaged among us. The way God set up the system in theocratic Israel should be our model. “Foreigners” and “strangers” were welcome, and could even receive alms from the nation’s tithe, but (and this is important) only if they acknowledged Yahweh as their God and Father. Molech worshipers or devotees of Ba’al were not to be extended the same courtesy or opportunity. Tolerance for evil was not seen as a virtue.
Likewise, the covering of God’s grace is available to anyone, but they have to be willing to accept it on His terms (sort of like our adopted kids agreeing to become part of our family—which is actually part of the legal process if they’re old enough to understand what’s happening). You can’t join Yahweh’s family if you aren’t willing to embrace Him as your heavenly Father, or be nurtured by His Holy Spirit as your spiritual “mother.” You can’t receive God’s forgiveness if you aren’t willing to admit you’ve sinned against Him.
Imputed righteousness isn’t the only thing we’re capable of “putting on.” In regard to the slanderers who dogged his steps, David prayed, “As he loved cursing, so let it come to him. As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, so let it enter his body like water, and like oil into his bones. Let it be to him like the garment which covers him, and for a belt with which he girds himself continually…. Let my accusers be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle.” (Psalm 109:17-19, 29) In these last days, as Judeo-Christian values are constantly under attack, we too might ask God to clothe these purveyors of hatred and slander with shame and disgrace—if for no other reason than to blunt their success at the ballot box as we breathlessly await Christ’s return.
But although we are sorely tempted to return curse for curse and slander for slander, we believers must learn to take a different path—a higher path—for vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone. “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” (Colossians 3:8-10) The “old man” is our former carnal state—that animal nature we brought with us out of Eden. The “new man” is Christ’s nature, implanted within our souls by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Having defined the attributes of the “old man,” Paul now describes the new: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:12-14) Love for one another isn’t naturally the core of the human condition unless we are indwelled with the Spirit of Love through our belief in—our reliance upon—the atoning blood of Christ. That atonement is a gift, a garment we may “put on” if we choose to do so.
Ironically, the caricature of Christianity presented by the lost world is that of a religion full of “anger, wrath, and malice,” a dour, lifeless, tradition-bound cult, hogtied by pointless legalism. (They don’t know enough about our God to put forth a convincing accusation of “blasphemy”). But the profile of a real Christian is one of mercy and kindness, a humble and patient spirit, and a willingness to forgive others of their faults—even while maintaining a clear distinction between what sin is and what it is not. The counterintuitive fact is that even good works can be “sin” if done with ungodly or impure motives.
In short, we are to “put on” Christ Himself: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) It’s not the physical act of baptism that achieves this, of course, but what it means—literally, immersion into his death to the world, followed by resurrection into new life: total spiritual transformation. “Putting off” our old life is characterized as “dying” to it; and “putting on” Christ is living for Him—and letting Him live in (and through) us. Note that as with mortal life and physical death, there are really only two states of being: you are either alive, or you are not. If you think hovering between the two states (acting all pious and holy in church on Sunday but behaving like the devil the other six days of the week) sounds like a viable plan, consider this: the rough equivalent in real life is being in a coma, on life support. That’s no way to live.
Yahshua, immediately after exposing the hypocrisy of a crowd eager to stone a woman caught in adultery, declared, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Paul later characterized this “light of life” as protective armor we put on when we follow Yahshua: “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:12-14) Note that we can’t “wear” both the light and the darkness at the same time: we must choose to take off our cloak of darkness—our self-destructive behaviors—in order to don the robes of Christ’s righteous light. It’s not that good works save us; it’s that there is no such thing as good works outside of the righteousness imputed to us by Christ’s perfect life.
As we have seen, Christ “put off” any semblance of divine royalty when He manifested Himself as a mere mortal man—and then as the lowliest of servants among us, when He washed His disciples’ feet. But He didn’t remain in that posture forever: “When [Yahshua] had washed [His disciples’] feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’” (John 13:12-14) In the context of symbolically “putting off” and “putting on” clothing, note that there is a progression. We enter the world naked and helpless, but eventually become useful, productive members of society—putting on the garments of “servants.” We are to “wash the feet” of our fellow man as long as we are able. As in Christ’s example, however, when the job is complete, we are to put our “outer garment” back on. That is, there may come a time when teaching, not hands-on labor, is of greater value to the world—when one’s brain is finally stronger than his back, so to speak.
But the progression didn’t end there. Yahshua, having then instructed His disciples concerning their heavenly destiny, their privilege and power in prayer, and their future indwelling by the Holy Spirit, continued the sartorial odyssey. In quick succession, He now endured the mocking crown of thorns and purple robes of ridicule, the humiliating exposure of self-sacrifice, and the grave-clothes of death. And still He was not done. On the third day, He rose from the dead, clothed in a new immortal body that—though unmistakably His—was as different from His mortal frame as it was possible to be and still be the same person. Garbed in this form, He ascended into the heavens, promising to return—a promise we know to be true because He has never lied to us about anything. The next time anybody on this planet sees him, He will appear as a warrior—with His garments stained with the blood of His vanquished enemies. Then He will appear in one last manifestation: as King of kings and Lord of lords, in the full regalia of divine royalty as He reigns upon the earth for a thousand years—and then, on into eternity.
If we have “put on Christ” (as Paul phrases it), we will share in His destiny—not as His equals, but as His bride. The husband’s divinely appointed symbolic role in marriage includes some tasks or functions in which the wife does not participate: providing for her, covering her, defending her, and—when it comes to that—dying for her. But otherwise, we, the Bride of Christ—the church—will follow our Bridegroom through the same “sartorial odyssey” in which Christ journeyed. Of course, there is no atoning sacrifice in our future, for that job is finished (not to mention being totally beyond our capability). Nor will there be a warrior’s role for us in the judgment of the earth, for it is said that the Messiah “will tread out the winepress of the wrath of God alone.” (See Isaiah 63:3-6.) But in every other respect, we will follow the same progression Christ took.
Easily the most remarkable of these “changes of apparel” is the donning of a new immortal body. The only reason we celebrate the life of Yahshua is that He rose from the dead under his own power on the third day after His crucifixion—proving that He was God in flesh. But we will follow Him in this regard, for we are His, and are quickened by His Spirit. Paul explains: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” This tells us when the change will occur: on the Feast of Trumpets—the fifth of Yahweh’s seven holy appointments (see Leviticus 23, etc.), on Tishri 1, in the autumn. (The year would appear to be unspecified in scripture—we must simply remain watchful). “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (I Corinthians 15:51-54)
This event is commonly referred to as the rapture of the church. The dead in Christ will rise, followed immediately by those of us who are still alive (see I Thessalonians 4:15-18). The change—taking off the mortal state (whether dead or alive) and putting on immortality—will apparently be more or less instantaneous all over the world. I expect the living raptured believers to number in the hundreds of millions worldwide—which is pretty pathetic, considering the population of the earth is now pushing eight billion souls, and we have had some two thousand years to implement the Great Commission. Still, our departure will not go unnoticed. There are just too many of us, we live all over the world, and we have but one thing in common: Christ. The rapture cannot help but be a thunderous wake-up call for the billions we’ve left behind. As much as they’d like to, they’re not going to be able to bury the story on page eight of the newspaper’s sports section.
Since we have historical records describing the properties of God’s prototype for “human 2.0” in the believers’ interaction with the risen Christ before His ascension, one thing is clear: we raptured and risen believers will not resemble the cartoon caricature of winged ghosts floating about on heavenly clouds playing phantom harps. The risen Yahshua was busy in the world, talking to people, teaching, exhorting, and encouraging. And after the Tribulation has ended and we have returned to this planet with our King, the earth will still be populated by mortal humans—though not nearly as many as there were before. They will live in perfect peace for a thousand years during King Yahshua’s reign, and I believe (though we aren’t told) that the raptured/resurrected saints will function as mentors and counselors for the growing mortal populations that entire time. When the Millennial reign is complete and the eternal state has commenced, every mortal believer will be re-clothed in an immortal-spiritual body, just as the raptured saints were. And we will all know as we are known.
There is another mention of “putting on” new garments in connection with Christ’s Millennial reign. But this time, it is not a person, but a city—the capital city of the King. “Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion. Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you.” (Isaiah 52:1) Jerusalem has been a bone of contention and a “cup of trembling” for the world ever since Yahweh declared His intention to make it His city—the only city He ever vowed to defend. But during the Kingdom age, only the redeemed will be granted admittance. So in a way, the city of Jerusalem will have become a visual metaphor for the amazing redemption of Israel during the reign of Christ: “Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For Yahweh has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. Yahweh has [in the Person of the returning King Yahshua] made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations. And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:9-10)
As beautiful as the Millennial Zion will be, it is but a shadow of the glory of New Jerusalem—the heavenly city God has prepared to orbit about the New Earth in the New Heavens during our eternal, immortal state. “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” What does a bride put on for her wedding day? The most beautiful attire possible, in honor of her beloved bridegroom. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.’” The wilderness tabernacle and its service were complex symbols revealing the Plan of God for our salvation. Everything, one way or another, pointed toward Yahshua the Christ, God incarnate. So now we learn just how literal these symbols were: “God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4)
The New Jerusalem may look as pretty as a bride, but it would appear that the connection is even more explicit than that. “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’” Who is the “bride of Christ?” The church, the ekklesia, the ones who are “called out” of the world (which is what the Greek word ekklesia means) to follow Him. “And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’” (Revelation 19:6-9) Fine linen, you’ll recall, is symbolic of imputed righteousness: the “righteous acts” we put on are credited to us, artifacts of the atonement of our sins, achieved by Christ our bridegroom upon Calvary’s tree.
So just as Israel is forever associated with the earthly Jerusalem, the ekklesia is inextricably linked with the New Jerusalem: “Then one of the seven angels…came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” (Revelation 21:9-11) John’s subsequent description of the heavenly city (with precise dimensions and architectural features) leads us to the conclusion that it is a real place, not a metaphor or euphemism for a group of people. Apparently, this is where we—the church—will spend eternity.
In other words, it is (as far as we’re concerned) heaven. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light….” (Revelation 21:22-23) Apparently, the New Jerusalem will orbit the New Earth (it is about 5/8 the size of the moon, with a length, breadth, and height of 12,000 stadia—about 1,379 miles).
If I’m seeing this correctly, the New Earth (about which the New Jerusalem orbits) will be the eternal home of the saints from the Millennial Kingdom age—those who honored King Yahshua during His thousand-year earthly reign. Now, having also been given immortal bodies, they will have free access to the heavenly city. “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:24-27)
There is no difference in the salvation status between us who have “put on Christ” and those who will receive His grace after the Millennial age begins. But by definition, the believing children of the Millennial mortals will not really be able to exercise faith in Christ, for during the Kingdom age, there will be no logical way to pretend that He isn’t God. Disbelief will be impossible.
Remember Paul’s explanation to the believers of the church age: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This definition describes both Old-Testament and church-age believers. Faith is the key. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29) “Putting on Christ,” then, is tantamount to believing in Him, exercising trust and reliance in His finished work, even without “concrete proof,” whether before or after His first-century advent. There is plenty of evidence, of course, but evidence (unlike proof) is something we must choose to accept.
Why did God set it up like this? It’s the nature of love—which is Yahweh’s primary attribute. As I wrote elsewhere, “Love is the one thing that cannot be forced, even by an omnipotent deity, because if it is forced, it’s no longer love but has become something else. In that, it’s fundamentally different from obedience, loyalty, or even worship. It can’t be compelled, bought, stolen, held for ransom, or even manufactured; it can only be earned. It can’t be sold or bartered; it can only be given away. And here’s the rub: the capacity to love requires the capacity not to love. If the object of God’s affection cannot reject Him, then accepting Him is a meaningless concept…. How can He have a loving relationship with us—His would-be companions—if He leaves us no choice but to accept and reciprocate His love? If we have no choice, our love is nothing more than obedience; but if we do have a choice, our obedience demonstrates our love.”
Looking at the prophetic ramifications of “putting on Christ” from another angle, it is the outworking of the Sabbath Law. After the six-millennium “work week” of fallen man is over (and by the way, it is almost over as I write these words) no one will be able to work. But how does God define our work? Yahshua said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29) The Kingdom Age is God’s Sabbath, when it will be impossible not to “believe in” the Messiah; thus belief in Him will no longer be considered “work.”
We are living in the last few moments of the church age. My advice, then, is to “put on Christ” now, while it is still possible to exercise faith—to do “the work of God by believing in the One whom He sent.” My guess, though, is that if you’re reading this, you have already done so. If that’s the case, congratulations, my brother or sister. Our shared belief is about to bear fruit.
The Whole Armor of God: Our Defense
Israel’s geographical odyssey is a parable, of sorts. They entered Egypt as a family, but became a nation during their four hundred years of bondage there. Egypt thus became a metaphor for humanity’s lost condition in the world, the place in which we all begin. Only when all rational hope for attaining liberty through human effort had been lost did Yahweh do the counterintuitive thing: buying His people’s freedom by sacrificing Egypt’s firstborn. In retrospect, we can see that this was prophetic of Yahshua’s sacrifice, securing our freedom from bondage in the world, if only we would choose to get up and leave it.
Having been freed, Israel found itself in the wilderness that separated the world from the Promised Land. The wilderness was a place of preparation and anticipation, where Israel’s only job was to learn to trust the God who had delivered them. They ended up spending forty years (instead of only a few months) there, because they refused to learn that one simple lesson: trust Yahweh. Ironically, the twelve spies they’d sent into the Land of Promise had been perfectly correct about the obstacles that awaited them: there were “giants in the Land,” and there were battles to be fought. Ten of the spies said, “It’s too tough—we can’t do it.” But Joshua and Caleb said, “So what? With Yahweh leading us, there is nothing we can’t do, impossible or not. Let’s go!”
The lesson we sometimes miss is that the “Promised Land” does not represent heaven, where life is perfect, sorrow is banished, and death is unheard of. Rather, the Promised Land is a metaphor for the everyday life of the believer. There are giants in the land and battles to be fought. There is work to be done. There are obstacles to overcome. But as Joshua and Caleb knew, with Yahweh’s guiding and providence, no problem is insurmountable. The Christian life is a “land of milk and honey,” but we still have to get up at the crack of dawn to milk God’s cows, and don protective clothing so we don’t get stung when we gather His honey.
Here in the Christian life, there are still Philistines to fight, and Canaanites to conquer. In Bronze Age Israel, the enemies were real people; but nowadays they’re more conceptual in nature. Our “Philistines” are irrational hostility to godly values, indifference to spiritually discerned truth, and willful blindness to the logic and science that supports Scriptural Christianity. Our “Canaanites” are ideologies and belief systems (religions, if you will) that attempt to compete against simple salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. That being said, our enemies are no less real than those faced by ancient Israel. We too need to don the whole armor of God if we hope to make it through our days unscathed.
Young David faced one of those “giants in the land” without any defensive armor—at least not the kind you can see. It was only afterward that Prince Jonathan made sure David was properly equipped for battle. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.” (I Samuel 18:1-4) Jonathan gave his own armor and arms to David because he loved his friend, and didn’t want to see him get hurt if he could help it. I’m thinking we too should do everything we can to see our friends properly equipped to fight life’s battles—even if it costs us dearly.
Alas, “Philistines” and “Canaanites” (spiritually speaking) have been a constant fixture in the lives of believers since more or less forever—even before Joshua and Caleb led the armies of Israel into the Promised Land. Way back in Noah’s day, “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) The problem is the heart—symbolically, the center of mankind’s personality, intuition, feeling, and emotion. Yahshua noted: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” (Matthew 15:19-20) And as Jeremiah the prophet revealed, these “heart issues” do not go unnoticed by a holy God: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
So Isaiah, writing seven centuries before Christ, says: “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.” I know it sounds like he could have been talking about current events in our day, but that’s only because the heart of man has always been “deceitful and desperately wicked,” the ultimate source of “evil thoughts” and all the rest. Mankind’s sin comes as no surprise to God, of course, but that doesn’t mean He’s okay with it: “Then Yahweh saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor….” The “man,” the “intercessor” we needed, would turn out to be our ultimate High Priest, Yahshua. (See Hebrews 4:14, 7:20-8:2, 10:21.) If mankind’s injustices were to be addressed, it would have to be by a perfect human being, a divine Intercessor, God in flesh. Just because it’s absolutely counterintuitive—a plan no mere man could have dreamed up—don’t assume it isn’t true.
Confirming the identity of the Intercessor, Isaiah says: “Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him, and His own righteousness, it sustained Him….” “Salvation” here is the Hebrew verb yasha, meaning “to deliver, preserve, defend, or bring salvation.” God apparently loves the concept: the verb is used 206 times in the Tanakh. The noun form based on this verb, meaning “salvation, deliverance, or help” (used 77 times in scripture) is Yeshuah or Yâshuw`ah—phonetically indistinguishable from the name of the Messiah: Yahshua—Jesus—which means “Yahweh is Salvation.”
Isaiah continues his description of Yahweh’s solution to our problems: “For He [the Intercessor, Christ] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation [yeshuah] on His head. He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies. The coastlands [read: everybody—the whole earth] He will fully repay.” (Isaiah 59:14-18) You may recognize a couple of these items from Paul’s list of “the whole armor of God” enumerated in Ephesians 6 (which we will study in detail in a moment). For now, simply note that Yahshua, though God in identity, walked through this world as a mortal man, and as such, He faced the same kinds of challenges we all do.
He needed a “breastplate of righteousness,” for He was faced with worse temptations than any of us can even imagine. It allowed Him to emerge victorious over Satan’s wiles—with a pure heart, innocent to the end. And He also needed to put on the helmet of salvation. It’s not that He needed to be protected from the consequences of His own human thoughts. Rather, He had to keep His mission in mind—to deliver us from our “human condition.” So things like casting out demons, curing lepers, feeding the multitudes, and raising the dead punctuated (and authenticated) His teachings on how we ought to live before God.
Isaiah then mentions two other “garments” to be worn by Yahshua, our Intercessor. These (unlike the breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation worn during His first advent) won’t be “put on” by Christ (in any tangible way) until His second coming. First, “He put on the garments of vengeance.” We are reminded that it is not our job in this world to take vengeance, except under the explicit authority of God: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19) This is a reference to God’s revelation through Moses: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense. Their foot shall slip in due time, for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) Vengeance is sure, but the timing is entirely up to Yahweh, to whom all days are perpetually “at hand.”
Another writer expounds further: “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:28-31) Nobody has to experience God’s vengeance, of course. We have but to receive His grace while it is available to us.
Paul writes, “But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.” In context, “such things” are defined as “unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, being whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful.” I know: it sounds like “business as usual” in our fallen world. The point is that God will, in His own good time, avenge these affronts to His own righteous character. Vengeance is not our job, but His: “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:2-4) Hypocrisy is sin. Our job is to repent.
And what will Christ’s vengeance look like when He finally brings it to bear upon a lost and unrepentant world? We’re back to Isaiah again: “Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold. Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me, and My own fury, it sustained Me. I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, made them drunk in My fury, and brought down their strength to the earth.’” (Isaiah 63:2-6) This is a sobering picture of the final confrontation between those who, as Paul put it above, “despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance,” and the One who gave up everything, including His very mortal life, so that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (I John 1:12) The “battle” is called Armageddon, but it won’t really be a battle. It’s simply slaughter, the long-awaited vengeance of Yahweh’s Anointed Intercessor toward those who have chosen to hate Him.
Back in Isaiah 59, the prophet mentioned one more garment. Yahweh’s Intercessor will be “clad with zeal as a cloak.” The word translated “zeal” here is qinah, a noun more often translated as “jealousy.” Yahweh often describes Himself as a “jealous God,” but the connotation isn’t exactly how we picture jealously these days. It is not envy or covetousness directed toward someone who has something we want, but rather enthusiasm or zeal toward what (or who) we already have. Thus Yahweh views Israel with great zeal (a.k.a. “jealousy”), just as Yahshua’s zeal for His bride the church is unbounded.
A look at the Ten Commandments shows us how it works. The Second Commandment states, “You shall not bow down to [carved images] nor serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous [qanna, the adjective related to the noun qinah] God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6) But then the Tenth Commandment says we are not to covet—envy, desire, yearn for, or express jealousy toward—anything that doesn’t belong to us. The distinction is thus quite clear. There is a world of difference between enthusiastic zeal and obsessive self-indulgence.
David writes, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” (Psalm 69:9) This whole Psalm is a Messianic prophecy, as revealed by Yahshua’s first cleansing of the temple, where His zeal for God’s house was duly noted by His disciples (see John 2:17). Another Psalm echoes the refrain: “My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten Your words.” (Psalm 119:139)
Isaiah (he who reported: “He was clad with zeal as a cloak”) has even more to say about the enthusiasm of the coming Messiah for His people: “Yahweh shall go forth like a mighty man. He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud: He shall prevail against His enemies.” (Isaiah 42:13) This concept should be enough to cause deists to break out in a cold sweat. (A deist is someone who believes that although a Creator-God may exist, He is neither interested in, nor involved with, our daily lives.) Not only is Yahweh interested in us, He vowed to take on the form of a man (and a mighty warrior, at that) in the vigorous defense of His followers, His children. This is in marked contrast to other “gods” that people may worship—who take without giving, promise without delivering, and demand that their followers do everything on their behalf or face hell fire for non-compliance.
You may protest, “Yahweh indeed manifested Himself as a man—Yahshua of Nazareth—but mighty? A man of war? Jesus was meek, lowly, and humble, to the point of allowing us to crucify Him, though He was sinless.” Yes, but we must remember that the first of the “enemies” Yahshua had to conquer was our own sin nature. He accomplished that by going to the cross. He then proved He had defeated our sin by rising from the dead (as promised) on the third day. Our job, subsequently, is simply to believe in His finished work, demonstrating that belief by doing what comes naturally for redeemed souls: loving one another as we have been loved by Christ.
The rest of it—the “man of war” side of things—is the “easy” part, comparatively speaking. Yahweh knew that relatively few of us would choose to receive His gift of grace. There would therefore come a time when the saved would have to be separated from the lost—when the sheep (so to speak) would have to be removed from among the goats. (This is all “judgment” means in scriptural usage.) A second Messianic advent, then, was deemed necessary to right the wrongs, balance the equation, and fulfill the promise of peace. After two thousand years of joyful (but agonizing) anticipation on the part of the Bride of Christ, our Anointed One is poised to return for us, on the definitive Feast of Trumpets. Ironically, after our wedding feast in heaven, He has allowed Himself only five days—the time between the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles—to clean up the mess mankind has made of the earth. It’s going to get even messier, I’m afraid.
Think about man’s history in terms of the Sabbath Law. Our “week” began on “Sunday” with Adam’s fall into sin. On “Monday,” we met Noah, and on “Tuesday,” we encountered Abraham. At the very end of the fourth day (“Wednesday” if you will) Yahshua the Messiah appeared. (Remember, the sun became visible in the creation account only on the fourth day; for confirmation, see Malachi 4:2.) Isaiah described this first advent briefly: “For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given….” Then, on “Thursday” and “Friday,” the church age ran its course, while Israel’s “seventy weeks” were put on hold (See Hosea 6:1-3). (By the way, we are now very near sundown on Friday, the end of the day, when no one can work.)
But on “Saturday”—the Sabbath—the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy (no pun intended) will be fulfilled: “And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever….” That “forever” reference (going back to the Torah again) is equivalent to the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles—the “great day” of celebration, which represents our transition to the eternal state.
And let us not gloss over the bottom line, that which got us aboard this train of thought in the first place: “The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) Yes, it is the “zeal” that Yahweh put on “as a cloak” back in our discussion of Isaiah 59:17. Yahweh is zealous—passionate and enthusiastic—about bringing His plan of redemption to fruition. It is not an afterthought: it is the whole point.
The definitive passage explaining the “whole armor of God” is found in Ephesians 6, where Paul writes, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” How can this be done, and why is it so important? “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12) It’s a spiritual battle, one that must be fought with spiritual weapons, whether defensive or offensive, if we hope to achieve any success at all. Satan’s tactic is “wiles”—trickery and deceit. He doesn’t say “follow me or I’ll kill you.” (Well, not yet, anyway.) Rather, he dangles plausible and attractive counterfeits before our covetous eyes, hoping we’ll choose them instead of Yahweh’s love. Mortal-human armaments (like good intentions, strenuous effort, and religious traditions) are woefully inadequate against the wiles of the devil—like bringing a squirt gun to a nuclear war.
Seven things are listed (if we include the “headline,” the “whole armor of God” among them). Since seven is the symbolic number signifying divine completion or perfection, we are reminded that we will remain unprotected or ineffective in our Christian walk to whatever extent we fail to utilize this equipment. Let us, then, explore each of the seven things in turn:
(1) “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) The “whole armor” is first presented as a unified concept. The Greek panoplia is a compound that literally means “all of the tools or weapons.” The point is that to be only partially equipped for spiritual warfare is actually to leave yourself vulnerable to some extent. To “withstand” literally means: to stand against (Satan), to resist or oppose him. The ensemble must be complete if we wish to stand against the sneaky attacks that we know are coming.
When do we need this armor? “In the evil day.” “Evil” here is the Greek adjective poneros, meaning painful, miserable, wicked, toilsome, annoying, and perilous, etc. In Yahshua’s parable of the dragnet, two words are used to describe “bad” fish scooped up in the net of life. Sapros fish are dead, rotten, corrupt, and stinking—they have no life in them. But poneros fish are alive, vicious, actively dangerous—even poisonous. There is nothing passive about the perils we face in this fallen world—especially in these “evil” Last Days. That’s why we need to put on Yahweh’s armor. Note too that this armor, this equipment, is God’s—it is not something we must provide for ourselves. Furthermore, it is there for the taking: all we have to do is pick it up and put it on.
(2) “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth.” (Ephesians 6:14) We discussed the “belt” or “waistband” concept at length in our previous chapter. Basically, the idea is preparedness—the concept of being equipped to meet any challenge, even before it arises. We are reminded of Elijah “girding up his loins” by tucking the hem of his robe into his belt, so he could outrun Ahab’s chariot to deliver God’s word to the apostate king. And Isaiah informed us of the symbolic nature of Christ’s belt: “Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.” (Isaiah 11:5) Righteousness and faithfulness prepared the Messiah for His mission: to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” the sole and exclusive portal to Father Yahweh’s presence.
In contrast, our adversary Satan is the father of lies. We would be wise to equip ourselves to be able to discern the difference. Think of truth as a “utility belt” upon which we can hang everything we might need in the spiritual battle. If we’re equipped with truth, we won’t find ourselves unprepared in the face of lies. Remember: Satan’s primary weapon is his “wiles,” the deadly but plausible lies he has been telling us since Eden. Knowledge is helpful, and wisdom is even better. But what is needed here goes beyond the mere appreciation of facts. We must be prepared with truth. Truth, after all, is liberating: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
(3) “…Having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” (Ephesians 6:14) Above, we noted Isaiah’s description of Yahweh’s Messiah (which is no doubt where Paul’s imagery came from): “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head. He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” (Isaiah 59:17) And there I commented, “He needed a ‘breastplate of righteousness,’ for He was faced with worse temptations than any of us can even imagine. It allowed Him to emerge victorious over Satan’s wiles—with a pure heart, innocent to the end.”
Righteousness (dikaiosune), according to Strong’s, is “the condition acceptable to God… integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting.” The “breastplate” guards and protects our hearts from the fiery darts of the wicked one. It is an article of defense—used to prevent Satan’s wiles from having any effect upon us.
What is remarkable is that the same “breastplate of righteousness” that Yahshua employed as a human being, enabling Him to remain innocent, is available to us as well. But like everything else in this inventory of armament, it isn’t our righteousness we’re putting on at all, but Christ’s. Recall the parallel picture we saw back in I Samuel 18, when Jonathan (the son of the king—thus a type of Christ) gave to David (whose name means “beloved”) his own robes and armor. We have nothing that wasn’t given to us—up to and including life itself. But Christ’s righteousness—His sinlessness—is key. It is that which has the power to reconcile us with the Holy God. We cannot stand in His presence without it.
Being symbols, these pieces of the “whole armor of God” aren’t necessarily restricted to a single meaning. Here in Ephesians 6, Paul is talking about guarding our hearts against the “wiles of the devil” as we walk through this dangerously evil world. But in another context, he attributed different benefits to the wearing of God’s “breastplate.” “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 5:8-9) The context here is the joyful confidence we believers may share as we anticipate the rapture of the church.
Yes, we believers are “of the day”—children of the Light. But the world we inhabit in these Last Days has grown very dark, and the vast majority of humanity have either fallen asleep, oblivious to the spiritual warfare that rages all around them, or they have decided to cope with it by getting “drunk,” numbing their minds and hearts to the terrifying reality of what’s going on. Their intoxication may be achieved with alcohol, but it could just as easily be attained with petty distractions, the quest for wealth, or the pursuit of pleasure—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” as John put it, all of which tends to separate people from the God who made them. We who live in the light of God’s love, however, have been given God’s promise that the wrath that is poised to visit this rebellious world will not fall upon us. So the breastplate that we sober, wide-awake believers wear in these final hours not only provides righteousness, but also “faith and hope.”
And I may be extrapolating, but considering the context, I see this “breastplate of faith and hope” in a very specific, focused sense. It represents our deliverance, via the rapture, from wrath of God. This whole passage—from I Thessalonians 4:13 through 5:11—outlines how we should live in anticipation of our transformation at the last trumpet. Though described elsewhere, this is the only place in scripture where the “rapture” is given its common moniker—sort of: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them [the previously deceased saints] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:17) It’s translated “caught up” here (harpazo in the Greek, from whose Vulgate translation—rapiemur, the first-person plural future passive indicative of the Latin verb rapiō—we get “rapture.”) The word means to seize, catch up, pluck, snatch away, or take by force.
Since we are commanded first to “believe in the One whom Yahweh sent,” and then to “love one another,” it’s pretty clear that the “breastplate of faith and hope” about which Paul spoke could be described as the risen Christ phrased it in His letter to the saints at Philadelphia: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10) That’s the rapture, in case you missed it. These believers (prophetically) were doing exactly what the Thessalonian saints were encouraged to do: “putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” This is essential preparation if we hope to keep Christ’s command to persevere as the days grow dark.
(4) “…And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15) The “good news of peace” prepares us—gets us ready—for what’s coming—whatever that is. Our “peace,” of course, is ultimately achieved by the reconciliation we, as a believers, have with God. We are no longer at enmity with Him (though we certainly are with the devil). This “good news” is illustrated as “the wearing of shoes” because we need them to keep moving forward in our walk through life—marching, as it were, to the beat of Yahweh’s drum, yet insulated from the world.
It is remarkable that “the whole armor of God”—the equipment we need to fight this war against the wiles of the devil—should include peace as one of its primary objectives. We are clearly instructed to resist Satan, and to avoid alliances with the world: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (I John 2:15) And, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) And “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) The fact that our enemy doesn’t “fight fair” doesn’t change the fact that it is a fight: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Our lives, properly lived, don’t sound very peaceful.
But then we remember that “peace” (at least in the Hebrew) means far more than simply the absence of war. Shalom (besides “peace” as we normally understand it) means completeness, soundness, health, welfare, prosperity, tranquility, contentment, friendship, and safety, etc. So although we cannot (or at least should not) make peace with the world, we can certainly enjoy peace in the world, as we walk through it—if we are prepared for the journey with message of the Gospel. We can rest in peace, knowing that the battle has already been won by our God—no matter what it looks like down here on the ground.
We are reminded of the words of Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7) Yes, and those “feet,” I’m thinking, are “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Why do we put on footwear? As I wrote in our previous chapter, “Shoes—from rubber flip-flops to steel-toed work boots—are designed to insulate our feet from contact with the world, or perhaps alter the nature of that interaction (as with sport-shoe spikes or cleats, or snowshoes, for example).” The idea is to separate ourselves from the world’s hazards—while we’re walking through it.
(5) “…Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesians 6:16) A shield is a defensive tool used to deflect the world’s attacks—in our case, temptation, heresy, doubt, and whatever else Satan might throw at us. Our shield is faith—or more to the point, the God in whom we place that faith. It always has been: “Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” (Proverbs 30:5)
Faith is far more than simply believing something to be true—like accepting as fact the idea that George Washington was the first president of the United States, even though we never actually met the man. Beyond simple acquiescence to “facts” that we can’t personally verify, faith implies unshakable trust, and beyond that, reliance upon the object of our faith. It thus behooves us to honestly assess the object of our faith.
We do this a hundred times a day, without even thinking about it: we flip the switch on the wall, having faith that the light will turn on. We drive through an intersection on a green light, having faith that the cross traffic will be stopped by a corresponding red light. We have experience with such things: they’ve never let us down in the past, so we “believe in them.” We check the weather report: they’re usually right (more or less), but not always. So we’ve learned to “trust but verify” what the meteorologists tell us. We learn to bring along an umbrella, just in case. But then we turn on the TV news, and realize that the “facts” they’re telling us aren’t necessarily true, and even if they are, they’re invariably “edited” or “spun” to protect one person (or group, or concept) or vilify others. We have learned through bitter experience to take everything we see in a public forum with a big grain of salt. I could go on all day, but you get the idea: everyday faith should be earned by consistent experience.
That being said, faith takes on a life of its own in matters involving our eternal destinies—matters beyond anybody’s ability to verify through research or personal experience. All we know for sure (i.e., via what we see) is that everybody eventually dies. There are apocryphal stories of “afterlife experiences” floating around, but we must take the witnesses’ word for such a thing—we can neither verify nor disprove them. On a more fundamental level, different belief systems promise very different versions of what happens to us after we die. And what we believe—the basis of our faith—shapes the way we live:
(1) Atheistic secular humanists, presuming we’re all just high-functioning animals who evolved from amoebas in the primordial ooze, promise us that there’s nothing after we die—“no hell below us; above us only sky” as John Lennon hopefully imagined it. So they live their lives as if the only real rule is, “Don’t get caught.” They believe, “There is no God to whom we owe an explanation for our behavior—there is no ‘higher power’ who gets to define right and wrong.” Taken to its logical conclusion, of course, this belief makes law, order, and common human decency seem like the height of foolishness.
(2) Hindu-based eastern religions all have one thing in common, whether they believe in 300 million gods or none at all. It is their faith in reincarnation—the idea that after death, they’ll “come back” as something else, either higher or lower on the spiritual scale, depending on “how well” they did in this life—whether as a king or a dung beetle. They find this idea terrifying, of course: life after death is actually their idea of “hell.” Intuitively knowing they’re sinners (even without a supreme being to define what sin is), their idea of “heaven”—called moksha or nirvana—is to die when they die: it’s not coming back at all, being released, rather, into permanent oblivion. But alas, they don’t know who determines where they’re going next, or why, so their lives (if they think about it) are characterized by frustration and despair.
(3) The Islamic view is that the afterlife is predestined for each individual by Allah himself. The vast majority—infidels, “hypocrites” (i.e., Muslims who don’t participate in jihad enthusiastically enough), and all women—are sent to hell fire, a place where Allah himself tortures the damned, roasting them on a spit, feeding them thorns, and giving them boiling water to drink. Their idea of “heaven” is a paradise where the chosen few (all of them males) live lives of endless debauchery, with rivers of wine, low-hanging fruit, and 72 sex-starved virgins to use and abuse. This place can be attained only by getting oneself killed while pursuing jihad—murdering people in the name of Allah and his prophet.
The problem is that the Islamic paradise is a very exclusive neighborhood: the Hadith of al-Bukhari reports: “I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘From my followers there will be a crowd of 70,000 in number who will enter Paradise.’” There have been perhaps three billion Muslims throughout history, half of whom are alive today. That means that according to Muhammad himself, your chances of entering paradise are only 1 in 43,000—and that’s if you’re a Muslim! Everyone else will go to hell. If I were a Muslim, I’d reassess my faith on the basis of that statistic alone: your “god” doesn’t like you very much.
(4) Judaism knows little beyond Sheol—the grave—because the Hebrew scriptures are short on detail in this regard, depending as they do upon the finished work of the Jewish Messiah, who is revealed only in the Greek scriptures—the New Testament. The way Sheol was described by Yahshua in Luke 16 is generally in line with Jewish beliefs, based on the Tanakh. But prophecy also reveals that in the end, Jews and Christians will honor the same God in the same way.
(5) The fact is that of all the world’s belief systems, only one—Biblical (a.k.a. Evangelical/Fundamental) Christianity—offers an afterlife that anybody in his right mind would want. In response to our choosing to place our faith in the efficacy of Christ’s Self-sacrificial atonement for our sins, we are promised new immortal bodies, built for the eternal state as our present ones are built for life on earth. Best of all, we will enjoy direct personal access to our Creator, Yahweh—forever. We will experience eternal joy, fulfillment, and contentment; while sorrow, sickness, regret, and death will be banished.
Christians, like everyone else, must exercise faith concerning the afterlife. But unlike every other belief system in existence, we have historical precedent—eyewitness testimony—to verify what we’ve been taught. I’m speaking, of course, of the resurrection of Yahshua. The Gospel narratives report multiple encounters between the risen Christ and His followers. Luke sums it up: “He was taken up [that is, He ascended bodily to heaven, before multiple witnesses], after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:2-3) Infallible proof and eyewitness testimony: what a concept!
Decades later, Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …He was buried, and…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and…He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain [alive] to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:3-6) The reason Christianity spread so far, so fast, was that a whole lot of people who had trusted Yahshua with their souls before He was crucified saw Him alive after He rose from the dead under His own power. They heard Him speak, and saw Him ascend bodily into heaven. These eyewitnesses had absolutely no reason to lie about this. There was nothing to gain, and (as it turned out) quite a bit to lose, by sticking to this story if it wasn’t true.
That first contingent of believers didn’t have to exercise much faith in Christ’s resurrection, for they had seen Him with their own eyes. (However, it’s telling that He didn’t reveal Himself to anyone who had not believed on Him before the crucifixion.) We who follow after them, on the other hand, must have faith that they were telling the truth, though they had no reason to do so other than the fact that it was true. Think of this as a trial, and we are the jury. The “defendant,” Satan, is a gangster who has been known to lie under oath, and to intimidate and murder witnesses who testify against him. And yet, the judge (that’s Yahweh) has called up five hundred witnesses who have testified under oath that Yahshua, though Satan had murdered Him, was now alive. Under Torah law, two or three eyewitnesses are sufficient to establish the truth of a matter. Five hundred is what you might call “overkill.” So when Paul admonishes us to “Take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one,” (Ephesians 6:16) we may know beyond any reasonable doubt that this shield will work as advertised.
(6) “And take the helmet of salvation.” (Ephesians 6:17) Salvation is a helmet: it protects our head—you know, that thing we’re supposed to be thinking with. God says His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (see Hosea 4:6). But salvation enables us to think clearly, making wise decisions based on truth and fact, not to mention logic. “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10)
If you’ll recall, our anchor text in Isaiah 59 also connected salvation with the wearing of a helmet: “For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation [yeshuah] on His head.” (Isaiah 59:17) In that case, however, the Messiah Himself was being described—Someone who didn’t need “salvation” in the same way we normally think of it: redemption from our own sinful natures. But the word (yeshuah) also implies help, deliverance, and victory. And we realize that without the “helmet of salvation,” Yahshua’s mission could have been screwed up in any number of ways: He had to die at the right time, for the right reason, in the right place, and in the right manner (crucifixion was specified in Psalm 22—five hundred years before it was even invented). There are some five hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Yahshua’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and the vast majority of them were outside His ability (as a mortal human) to control or influence.
This “helmet” was mentioned again in another passage we’ve already visited. “Let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” (I Thessalonians 5:8) This time, you’ll recall, the context was the impending rapture of the church—an event that is so close now (after almost two millennia since Paul wrote about it) that it is constantly on the minds of millions upon millions of Christians—as it should be. In Paul’s letter to Titus, it is called a “blessed hope,” so notice here that the helmet isn’t just of salvation, but of the hope of salvation. The Greek word used to express this hope is elpis, meaning “hope, expectation, trust, or confidence.” Helps Word-studies elaborates: “elpís is from elpō, “to anticipate, welcome—properly, expectation of what is sure (certain); hope.” This isn’t an “I hope I win the lottery” sort of hope, but rather something of which we may be confidently, joyfully expectant—even though we haven’t been plainly told all of the details (like the day or the hour)—just hints, inuendoes, and esoteric prophecies. That being said, it is a sure thing—just like any prophecy of God. So our “hope of salvation” in this context may be defined as the rapture of the church: we are to be saved, as in “kept out of the hour of trial that is to come upon the whole world.” (Revelation 3:1)
But in the more general Ephesians 6 sense, the “helmet of salvation” speaks of guarding our minds, protecting our thoughts against the ungodly influences that bombard us constantly—especially in these days of electronic media. Elsewhere, Paul points out that what we put into our heads is, to a great extent, within our ability to control: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) We don’t have to live a cloistered, monastic existence, you understand, isolated from the current events that shape public discourse in these evil times. But in order to live in peace, we must “put on the helmet of salvation,” that is, filter everything we hear through the holy, immutable Word of God. Be discerning; exercise wisdom.
We have been instructed to seek truth and justice, purity and virtue. I’ll offer one real-world example as to how this ought to work, versus how the lost world reacts. Not long ago, we heard on the news that a suspect, in the process of being arrested for his crime, died at the hands of one of the arresting officers. It turned out that (1) the suspect was a lifelong criminal, with a long and well-know rap sheet; (2) he was high on illegal drugs at the time of his arrest—with enough Fentanyl in his system to kill an ordinary man; (3) he was resisting arrest and had to be physically restrained for the protection of all involved; (4) the arresting officer used a restraint technique once approved, but now banned by his department; and (5) the officer and the suspect were of different races.
It all seems to the discerning mind to be a tragic accident (not to mention being a heartbreaking though practically inevitable end to a life of crime and violence). It would appear to be a case of a seasoned officer’s training kicking in, rather than following the latest politically correct policy guidelines to the letter, as well as the result of not knowing what drug the criminal was high on at the time of his arrest. But what did we hear on the news? The kneejerk reaction among the media elite was that it was an act of overt racial hatred, “murder under the color of authority.” So the deceased criminal was deemed a martyr and turned into a folk hero, someone to be idolized and emulated by all young men of his race (which, if you think about it, is in itself a racist position). And sure enough, in big cities all over the country, riots were staged, stores were looted, and buildings were burned, ostensibly “in memory” of the dead criminal. Meanwhile, what had Almighty God said to us? You shall not covet. You shall not steal. Blessed are the peacemakers. Love your neighbor. And meditate on good things. In short, put on the helmet of salvation.
It is pretty clear that in these Last Days, we are fighting a war: truth versus falsehood, right against wrong, light as opposed to darkness. But we must realize that it is a spiritual battle: we cannot fight it successfully in the flesh, for our flesh is part of the problem. Paul writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare [i.e., the “whole armor of God” we’ve been talking about] are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:3-5) “Bringing every thought into captivity” is the function of the “helmet of salvation.”
Helmets have one thing in common with crowns: they are worn on the head—they are symbolically associated with what we think—what we believe. But we don’t wear a helmet and a crown at the same time. The helmet we wear is “salvation” (or, the hope of salvation). And as we have seen, our salvation is Christ (whose very name means “Yahweh is Salvation”). Our salvation isn’t “pie in the sky when you die,” as the atheists like to characterize it. Rather, it is something we possess now—while the battle rages (which explains why we need to wear the helmet).
Crowns, on the other hand, represent an upgrade, a goal: they’re something we are given to wear after the “helmet of salvation” has done its job. There are several types. Paul speaks of a crown of righteousness (which, you’ll recall was the function of the breastplate in the armory of our mortal lives). “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8) That which once guarded our hearts—our emotional attachments—will soon define our minds: the righteousness of Christ. I can hardly wait!
Of course, righteousness isn’t of much use to us without life. But Yahshua says to the persecuted church of Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) The “crown of life” speaks of something beyond our frail mortal existence. James adds, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation.” This is not merely the enticement to do evil, but testing or trials of any sort. “For when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12) This crown of life, then, is for all believers—all of those who love the Author of Life. And it is attained by making use of the whole armor of God.
One more type of crown is mentioned: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (I Peter 5:4) Although the word “glory” (Greek: doxa) is used in scripture to indicate honor, splendor, renown, or brightness, its root meaning is “a personal opinion, an estimate concerning someone or something which expresses value.” Helps Word-studies notes that doxa “conveys God’s infinite, intrinsic worth—His substance or essence,” so it’s easy to see how the concept of splendor could be derived from our opinion of what God is.
It might be surprising to see “glory” attributed to us, in the form of a crown—that God’s opinion of us redeemed believers is entirely positive. Strange. But if we think about it, we soon realize that this glory—like life and righteousness—is imputed to us: it is derived from the very nature of God. We are shown this revealing scene in heaven: “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders [symbolic of all believers] fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:9-11) We owe everything to Yahweh, our Creator and Redeemer.
(7) “…And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) The last item on Paul’s list of “armaments” is the Holy Spirit, residing within us as a the Word of God. It is our only offensive weapon—but it’s not to be used against other people (since we aren’t to pass judgment on the servant of another), and especially not against a brother or sister in Christ. Rather, the sword of the Spirit is to be wielded against our real adversary, Satan, the one who schemes and plots against us in the spiritual realm—the one whom all of our defensive armor is designed to thwart.
Can our ancient adversary really be defeated by us puny humans? Amazingly, yes, but only if our weapon is the one Yahweh has put into our hands: Holy Scripture. The “Master’s Class” in how to do this is recorded in Luke 4, where we read how Yahshua withstood the temptations of the devil, using scripture as His only weapon (see vs. 4, 8, 12). Bear in mind, however, that Satan can swing a sword with the best of them: he too used scripture—out of context, of course—to try to trip up Christ (see vs. 10-11). The lesson: we, like Yahshua, must become thoroughly familiar with God’s written word if we hope to thrust and parry effectively against Satan’s attacks.
John reported Satan’s eviction from heaven (prophetically—this hasn’t happened yet: it will apparently take place sometime after the rapture): “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’” (Revelation 12:10-11) Michael and his angels (v.7) have “physically” thrown Satan and his demons out of God’s presence, leaving them nowhere to go but the earth. (And no, I have no idea how physical warfare between spiritual beings works, but it does happen: e.g. Daniel 10:13.) But who are these who have conquered him? The grammar would suggest that it’s not the angels, but rather the ones whom Satan has been accusing all this time—the redeemed in Christ. Our weapons? First, the blood of the Lamb, shed (as the Torah predicted) for our sins. And second, “by the word of their testimony.” That, in case you missed it, is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Note, however, that it’s not enough to read, study, and learn about the “word of God.” We have to proclaim it: we gain victory over Satan through our testimony, not our intellectual knowledge.
Further, we might assume (incorrectly) that this “word” is the familiar Greek concept of Logos, as in “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became 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 1:1, 14) The Word (in this sense) is Christ, which would imply that Yahshua Himself is our weapon—something we can wield like a sword to achieve success in this world. But if you’re sharp, you’re thinking, “That can’t be right. I’ve seen people try to do that very thing, and it’s always a spiritual nightmare.” Right you are.
The word translated “word” in Ephesians 6:17 is not logos, but rather rhema: that which has been uttered by a living voice. Our sword, then, is that which has been spoken by the Spirit of God—the ultimate Living Voice. It’s the scriptures: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Again, note that evil principles, not errant people, are to be struck down with this, our sole offensive weapon. And it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the principles, doctrines, and motives that we must test with the Word of God aren’t only those of other people; we must examine our own as well. Habits and traditions—even benign ones—can all too easily be mistaken for divine precepts.
This “sword of the Spirit, the word of God,” must be handled with the utmost care, like a loaded gun. If mishandled, people can get hurt. The classic example is our mother Eve, in the Garden of Eden, misquoting God’s words to Satan. By attempting to “put a hedge about the law” by adding to it (the typical error of Jewish rabbis to this day), Eve made herself vulnerable to the “wiles of the devil.” And it was all downhill from there. Rather, we should heed the good advice of Paul to Timothy: “Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15, Berean Study Bible) Accuracy matters: remember, “sin” may be defined as simply “missing the mark” of divine perfection.
As the aged Moses prepared to transfer the mantle of Israel’s leadership to Joshua, he delivered a long and sobering prophetic poem in Yahweh’s voice outlining the future history of Israel—the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. His conclusion stressed the fundamentally crucial value of the word of God: “Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel, and he said to them: ‘Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess.’” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47) God’s word is not optional: it is our very life.
So since this “sword,” the Word of God, is the only “offensive weapon” in our arsenal, let us wield it with love, precision, and pure motives—even though the world will still find it offensive.
Priestly Garments: Intercession
When Yahweh transformed Israel from an enslaved family living in Egyptian exile into a free nation on their way to their own promised homeland, He didn’t have much to say about what they were to wear. With the exception of the tsitzits, those symbol-rich tassels that were to be attached to the corners of their garments (something we covered in our chapter on “Accessories”), everybody wore the same sorts of clothing they had before the exodus. Even Moses, their God-appointed leader, didn’t wear anything special—no crown or fancy royal robe to set him apart from the masses.
In the whole nation, only five people, Moses’ brother and his four sons, were instructed to wear anything special, and even then, for only one of them was any detail provided. Yahweh told Moses, “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest….” There was nothing special about Aaron (other than the fact that he happened to be related to the one God had chosen to lead Israel). History showed that he wasn’t particularly godly, or qualified, or even very smart. He was merely available. And it was on that basis that Yahweh chose to use him. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Israel’s priesthood was designed to be hereditary—Aaron’s sons, down through the centuries. This should clue us in to the fact that these positions were not important for their own sake, but they bore great symbolic significance. As it turned out, the High Priest was to be figurative of Christ, our anointed Intercessor. And the ordinary priests were to be a metaphor for us who follow Him—redeemed believers, whether looking forward to or back upon the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is significant that of Aaron’s four sons, two served admirably, but the other two were slain by Yahweh for their failure to regard Him as holy. The Kingdom parables of Christ in Matthew 13 confirm that this would be the unfortunate pattern throughout fallen man’s tenure upon the earth: the good and the bad living side by side, even in the household of faith. It’s the legacy of mankind’s free will.
The High Priest’s special garments, then, can be expected to elucidate his symbolic presentation of the coming Messiah. Each in its own way, they explain what Christ’s function was to be: they are a prophecy. “And these are the garments which they [Israel’s gifted artisans] shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest.” (Exodus 28:1-4) It’s a permutation of God’s ubiquitous six-plus-one pattern. Six articles of clothing were listed—six being the number of humanity (although he actually wore seven articles of clothing—these six plus the “boxer shorts” all priests were to wear). We thus have our first clue that the mission of the Messiah—Yahweh’s human manifestation—is the symbolic subject of Aaron’s sartorial splendor.
(1) The EPHOD
The High Priest’s “ephod” was like a skirt or apron that covered the hips and thighs, worn over his other clothing. It featured two straps or suspenders, which went over the shoulders. We are told what materials and dyestuffs would be needed to craft it: “They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold [indicative of immutable purity, refined in the crucible of adversity], blue [tekeleth, symbolic of heaven], purple [argaman: royalty], and scarlet thread [tola: the blood of Christ, shed to atone for our sins], and fine woven linen [Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us], artistically worked.” (Exodus 28:5-6) Even the instruction that these materials were to be “artistically worked” has significance: God’s plan for our salvation has lots of moving parts and beautiful interlocking details. Its very complexity speaks of God’s authorship and execution. There are hundreds of specific prophecies concerning the Messiah’s mission, many of which were fulfilled in the mortal life of Yahshua of Nazareth, with the rest reserved for His second coming. If man were making this up, we would have gotten 99% of the details wrong. On the other hand, nobody would have made up a story like this: “Let’s see… we’ll have the Hero gain popularity by dying and then coming back to life…. Naah.”
“[The ephod] shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together.” (Exodus 28:7) The shoulder straps were not entirely utilitarian: they were there to accommodate another symbolic element: “Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel….” Onyx is a white form of calcium carbonate soft enough to be easily carved. It is sometimes found in nature layered with a harder red stone called sardius. The resulting “sardonyx” was prized for making cameos and signet rings—the soft onyx carving standing out against the red sardius background. Signet rings were used for impressing the owner’s seal into hot wax—a means of identification, proof of ownership, and exercise of authority. The sardonyx, then, symbolizes our being “sealed” by Yahshua—the red of the sardius represents His blood, while the white onyx speaks of His purity and holiness, which was intended to typify Israel, if only they would have received it.
“You shall set them [the two carved onyx stones] in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before Yahweh on his two shoulders as a memorial….” The symbolism here indicates that the High Priest (prophetic of Yahshua the Messiah) would carry the nation of Israel as His burden, never to be forgotten, never to be put down. This is a stern rebuke to those “Christians” who insist that despite His promises, Yahweh has forsaken Israel, replacing them with the church. No: Israel and the church have entirely different roles to play.
“You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings.” (Exodus 28:9-14) The settings in which the two onyx stones were encased, and the braided cables used to attach them to the ephod, were made of pure gold. This reinforces the concept that Israel would remain forever linked to their Messiah. Gold represents Christ’s unassailable purity, attained in the crucible of adversity on mankind’s behalf. Israel itself is not gold: their own merits have earned them nothing—quite the opposite, in fact: they are represented by the easily carved onyx stones: their rebellions have earned them millennia of needless exile and sorrow.
But for all their weakness, they are held together with gold, and are attached to the symbol-rich ephod with chains made of it. Nobody living today (in the shadow of Israel’s miraculous political rebirth in 1948) should be confused about Yahweh’s intentions toward her. Israel’s eventual repentance and ultimate restoration are by far the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanakh. Of course, in order for restoration to occur, the nation must first admit to having been estranged from this God who has vowed to reestablish her—and why. As Moses prophesied, “Then [Israel] forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. [That “Rock,” by the way, is Christ. See I Corinthians 10:4.] They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods. With abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you.” (Deuteronomy 32:15-18)
But they will, in the end, remember who their God is. This reawakening is the primary goal of the Great Tribulation, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, the last of Daniel’s famous “seventy weeks.” Their restoration will be accomplished through Israel’s national return to Yahweh, and their subsequent recognition of Yahshua as their Messiah—the One we Christians have been serving for the past two thousand years.
The prophet Ezekiel once saw a vision of a valley filled with dead, dry bones, which little by little came back to life. Yahweh explained: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.’” This process has begun, but will not be complete until God miraculously delivers them through the war of Magog—described in Ezekiel’s next two chapters. Only then, “‘I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it and performed it,” says Yahweh.’” (Ezekiel 37:11-14) The most wonderful outcome of the Magog conflict will be Israel’s national epiphany: “So the house of Israel shall know that I am Yahweh their God from that day forward.” (Ezekiel 39:22) (Review the account of the Magog war: Ezekiel 38-39)
(2) The BREASTPLATE
Moses was also instructed to make what was called a “breastplate.” It sounds like armor, but was actually just a linen “pocket,” about nine inches square, to be worn over the High Priest’s heart, attached to the ephod. “You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width.” (Exodus 28:15-16) The symbolic components used in the making of the ephod are repeated here: gold (Yahshua’s immutable purity), blue (our heavenly destination), purple (Yahshua’s divine royalty), scarlet (the atoning blood of Christ), and fine woven linen (imputed righteousness). Five is the scriptural number symbolizing grace, and these five materials sum up the components of God’s grace quite nicely.
Again we see the High Priest’s breastplate associated symbolically with the nation of Israel. Twelve gemstones, each of them associated with one of the tribes, were to be affixed to the front panel of the breast-piece: “And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes.” (Exodus 28:17-21)
In The End of the Beginning, chapter 30 (elsewhere on this website) I made the case that these twelve stones (or at least what they symbolize) were the same as stones adorning the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem, as described in Revelation 21:9-21. Since we aren’t told, I made my best guess as to what Yahweh was trying to tell us. Refer to TEOTB for my full analysis if you like. Here (arranged as in Exodus) are my admittedly speculative bottom-line conclusions:
(1) Sardius: the atoning blood of Yahshua.
(2) Topaz: God’s work in us through testing in the world.
(3) Emerald: our need for the Holy Spirit.
(4) Turquoise (Chrysoprase): the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace…
(5) Sapphire: the blue of the sky, symbolic of heaven.
(6) Diamond (Beryl): Yahweh’s creation—His loving provision for us.
(7) Jacinth: our glorious future in the “dwelling places” prepared for us.
(8) Agate (Chalcedony): mankind, the object of God’s love.
(9) Amethyst: the divine royalty of Christ.
(10) Beryl (Chrysolite): the riches of God’s love for us.
(11) Onyx (Sardonyx): our status as having been sealed by God.
(12) Jasper: Christ as the first and the last; the alpha and the omega.
Moses is now told how to attach the breast-piece to the ephod: “You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold. And you shall make two rings of gold for the breastplate, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. Then you shall put the two braided chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate; and the other two ends of the two braided chains you shall fasten to the two settings, and put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod in the front. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the edge of it, which is on the inner side of the ephod. And two other rings of gold you shall make, and put them on the two shoulder straps, underneath the ephod toward its front, right at the seam above the intricately woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod, using a blue cord, so that it is above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod.” (Exodus 28:22-28)
If I may refer to The Owner’s Manual… “The ephod was like an apron or skirt that was held up with two straps over the High Priest’s shoulders. The breast-piece was to be suspended between these two shoulder straps. Here we see the top attachment points. Golden rings were to be attached to both the “ends” (i.e., the edge, extremity, or selvedge—Hebrew: qatsah) of the breast-piece, and also to the two “settings,” that is, the gold frames into which were set the two onyx stones with the names of the sons of Israel, which perched upon the High Priest’s shoulders. These rings were to be joined by two braided cords of pure gold, which I would guess were five or six inches long.
“The breast-piece didn’t just hang there loose, however. Its lower edge was attached in a similar way to the straps, just above the ephod’s ‘intricately woven band’ [i.e., the “sash” we’ll discuss in a moment: #6]. It’s all a picture of service and intercession. The reason the ephod and breastplate were to remain attached was that service without love is worthless, just as love without service is impossible.”
If you’re like me, you’re wondering why we were given such intricate and exacting instructions for the attachment of the breast-piece. Following the principle that Yahweh never tells us anything on a pointless whim, I was compelled to ask myself: why, if the breast-piece was never to be removed from the ephod, was it attached in such a convoluted manner? Why not just sew it on, or for that matter, why not make the whole affair out of a single piece of linen and be done with it? Yahweh’s trying to tell us something here, but He’s making us dig for it.
Let’s review the details. There were four points of attachment. The top two corners of the breast-piece were attached to the gold settings of the onyx epaulets with golden cords. At the bottom, it was attached to the straps near the ephod’s “intricately woven band,” but this time, the attachment was done with a blue (tekelet) cord. In no case, however, was the cord affixed directly to the ephod or the breast-piece. Rather, it was attached to an intermediate ring, made of gold, which was in turn joined to the ephod. We might expect these rings, then, eight of them in all, to have significance beyond their mere attachment capabilities, since they weren’t really necessary if all you wanted to do was connect the breast-piece to the ephod. So it’s with some interest that we find that the Hebrew word for “ring” (taba’at)—a ring or signet ring—has far more to do with “signet” than it does “ring.” The root verb taba means to sink, to penetrate, as a signet ring would sink into the hot wax of a ruler’s seal. The use of the taba’at signet ring verified the authority of the one who used it. The round shape that allowed it to stay on his finger when not in use was pretty much beside the point.
What, then, is the symbolic significance of the unusual and counter-intuitive method of attaching the breast-piece to the ephod? Let’s look at the individual pieces of the puzzle. (1) The High Priest, the one who wears these items, is metaphorical of Yahshua the Messiah. (2) The ephod speaks of the Messiah’s service and sacrifice—His shouldering the burden of Israel’s sin (on the one end) and (3) on the other end, His “intricately woven band,” the chesheb, signifies His sacrifice and voluntary defilement on behalf of everybody else. (4) The breast-piece with its twelve stones worn over the High Priest’s heart symbolizes Yahweh’s love as demonstrated by His multi-faceted plan for our redemption. (5) The gold cords between the breast-piece and the onyx epaulets inscribed with Israel’s tribal names signify the precious and immutable promises of Yahweh toward them. (6) The blue cords running between the breast-piece and the ephod’s chesleb band represent the direct line between the Messiah and His ekklesia (something not enjoyed by Israel as a nation—yet). And (7) the rings that appear at every juncture remind us that God’s people—all of us—are sealed through the authority of Almighty Yahweh. In point of fact, then, the High Priest is wearing the story of our redemption upon his body.
“So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before Yahweh continually. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before Yahweh. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before Yahweh continually.” (Exodus 28:29-30) One final detail: as I noted, the breast-piece was a “pocket-like” affair, a double square folded over, sewn together on the sides and open at the top. Not only were there twelve gemstones affixed to the exterior, it was designed to hold two mysterious objects, the Urim and Thummim, within it.
These objects (which are never described in scripture) were used exclusively by the High Priest to discern the will of Yahweh in matters of national importance, though the actual method or means he used has been lost to history (which is probably a good thing). It is clear that these weren’t “divination” devices, like reading tea leaves or throwing dice. Such practices, in fact, were strictly forbidden. Rather, the idea and goal was to elicit guidance from Yahweh in the absence of a specific Torah precept covering the question, or a prophet like Samuel or Elijah with whom to consult. Neither chance nor occult knowledge was in view. It seems the Urim and Thummim were most often used to elicit a “yes or no” answer from Yahweh (e.g. I Samuel 23:9-12). But unlike “flipping a coin,” the question could entail more than a simple binary decision (as in Judges 1:1). And the answer might even be, “I’m not going to give you an answer,” (as in I Samuel 28:6).
Both of these words are plural forms. Urim is based on ur, a verb meaning “to be light, to shine; to give light, cause to shine; or to illumine.” Literally, then, urim means “lights” or “illumination.” Thummim (or Tumim) is derived from the verb tamam: to be complete, as in the related words tom (integrity or uprightness) and tam (perfect). Thus thummim, the plural of tom, literally means “perfections.” It speaks of truth that is arrived at honestly, in a natural, non-calculating way, with a clear conscience and pure motives. The use of the word to describe the random, un-aimed arrow shot that killed Ahab almost by accident (I Kings 22) gives us a clearer picture of the underlying tone of tom and thummim.
We needn’t get hung up on how the High Priest used the Urim and Thummim to discern the will of Yahweh. I realize that Josephus reported that the twelve stones of the ephod would shine when the Israelites were to be victorious in battle (Antiquities, 3.8, 9) and that the Talmudic rabbis suggested that the Shekinah would illumine letters within the engraved names of these stones to spell out secret messages (never mind the fact that they were five letters short of an alphabet using that method). These fanciful extrapolations on history and scripture ignore the fact that we never hear of the Urim and Thummim being used after the reign of David. Ezra and Nehemiah both mention their need, but not their use, at the time of the return of Judah’s exiles from Babylon. It’s quite possible that there was no physical property associated with them at all, but that their use in faith gave the High Priest prophetic insight into the question at hand.
We, rather, should consider what the Urim and Thummim mean as metaphors in Yahweh’s plan for our lives. Because they are the exclusive province of our High Priest, Yahshua, we are blessed with the counsel they provide, for His Spirit dwells within us today. We need only to ask for guidance. We would be fools not to avail ourselves of this priceless resource: lights and perfections—illumination and truth.
(3) The ROBE
“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before Yahweh and when he comes out, that he may not die.” (Exodus 28:31-35)
Worn over the linen tunic, the High Priest’s “robe” was more like a sleeved poncho than a coat, in that it wasn’t open at the front. Rather, it was slipped on over the head. The “neck” was reinforced so it wouldn’t tear. It was customary in these times for one to rend his clothing in order to express profound anguish or deep mourning, but the High Priest was specifically prohibited from doing so (see Leviticus 21:10). The reason, I believe, is wrapped up in what the robe represented: since it was made entirely of blue-dyed fabric, the ultimate High Priest’s role as King is being stressed here.
Since kings and priests were supposed to come from different tribes (Judah versus Levi), only one candidate for fulfillment exists: Yahshua, both our King and our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. On the other hand, there was one incident where a prophet was instructed to “crown” a High Priest and speak of him as if he were a king: “Behold, the Man whose name is the branch! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of Yahweh. Yes, He shall build the temple of Yahweh. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne. So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Zechariah 6:12-13) This was all prophetic of the coming Messiah, of course. The name of the priest? Joshua (pronounced: Yahshua), son of Jehozadak (which, not coincidentally, means “Yahweh has justified”). You think maybe God was trying to tell us something?
The point of never tearing the royal robe was that although the Messiah in his role as the Lamb of God would be torn—slain to atone for our sins—His position as King was unassailable. It made no difference if billions of lost and rebellious people said, “We will not have this Man to rule over us.” He does rule, whether they like it or not. The role of King of kings cannot be torn away from Yahshua.
And what of the “decorative” elements to be applied to the hem of the robe? Pomegranates embroidered in blue, purple, and scarlet were to ring the hem, interspersed with bells made of pure gold, sewn on in a way that would allow them to ring when the High Priest walked. The reason given for the bells is a warning: “Its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before Yahweh and when he comes out, that he may not die.” That he may not die? This is apparently more serious than it looks. The key, I think, is once again the metal from which the bells were to be made: gold—precious, immutable, proven pure in the crucible of adversity. The golden bells announce to Yahweh that the High Priest is there in his role as a symbolic representative of the coming Anointed One—he is not standing before Yahweh pretending to be “good enough” to intercede for the people on his own. He is, rather, the emissary of the King.
The pomegranates mean something else entirely. But what? Rabbis have tried to make the case that pomegranates represent the Law of Moses, because they contain 613 seeds. Problem is, they don’t. These apple-sized fruits always have lots of seeds, it’s true: that’s what the Anglicized name of the plant means (Latin: pomum = “apple,” and granatus = “seeded”). But they range from under 200 to over 1,300 in number—hardly the precision you’d expect from a biblical metaphor, if that’s really what it was supposed to mean. And besides, there aren’t 613 “laws” in the Torah. That’s a Talmudic prevarication, nothing more. But the meaning is tied to the seeds, which when crushed yield a sweet-to-sour red juice (the basis of grenadine, for example) that is symbolic of the refuge that may be found in the shed blood of Yahshua the Messiah. (No wonder the rabbis are scrambling for alternative explanations, lame or not.) I suppose you could say that whether the “blood” of the pomegranate is sweet to you or sour depends upon your relationship with the One who did the bleeding.
The “decorative elements” on the hem of the robe, then, are anything but merely decorative. They speak of the two functions of the Messiah, suffering servant and reigning king, repeated over and over again so we wouldn’t lose sight of one or the other.
(4) The TUNIC
“You shall skillfully weave the tunic of fine linen thread.” (Exodus 28:38) The tunic was the basic common garment everybody would wear. It was a long, loose, shirt-like affair, sleeved or sleeveless, reaching to the knees. It would ordinarily have been tied at the waist with a sash. The only thing remotely remarkable about the High Priest’s tunic was the extra care and attention to detail that was to be brought to bear in making it. It was to be made of “fine” linen—not of coarse or uneven thread—skillfully woven fabric. Nor was it to be made of wool, which (as it is explained in Ezekiel 44:18) “causes sweat,” making it a metaphor for work, as opposed to linen, a consistent scriptural symbol of imputed righteousness.
In a revealing twist, Yahshua’s tunic became the prize in a game of dice at His crucifixion (see John 19:23-24), in fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 22:18. And that’s not the only sartorial prophecy that was fulfilled at the foot of the cross. The soldiers dividing their victims’ garments among them were gambling for the tunic only because it was woven in one piece: they didn’t want to tear it. So we read, “He who is the high priest among his brethren, on whose head the anointing oil was poured and who is consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head or tear his clothes.” (Leviticus 21:10) Yahshua was our anointed High Priest—not of the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek. Between the crown of thorns He wore and the tunic that remained intact, it’s clear that Yahshua fulfilled the prophetic requirements of the Torah perfectly, even when matters were “out of His hands.”
(5) The TURBAN
“You shall make the turban of fine linen” (Exodus 28:39) The position of High Priest was not one of royal power (which would have suggested a crown of some sort), but rather of spiritual responsibility. So because he was not to “uncover his head” while performing his priestly duties (Leviticus 21:10 again) a turban was specified as his headgear. The phrase “shall not uncover the head” might be better rendered “shall not let his head be disheveled” (Ellicott’s Commentary), which was a sign of mourning. But there’s more to it:
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: ‘HOLINESS TO YAHWEH.’ And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before Yahweh.” (Exodus 28:36-38) There was to be a golden sign attached to the turban worn by the High Priest that read “Holiness to Yahweh,” or “Set Apart to Yahweh.” That is precisely the job description of not only the High Priest, but also the Messiah he represents—and indeed, all of us who are “in” him. Maybe if we all walked around with signs on our foreheads stating in no uncertain terms what (and Who) we’re about, we’d be less apt to behave the way we do. We’ve all heard of the “Mark of the Beast,” something on the forehead or hand that will identify someone during the Great Tribulation as belonging to Satan. In contrast, this sign on the front of Aaron’s turban could be called the “Mark of the Priest.” It too reveals who (and Whose) we are.
Of course, even here, there are symbolic aspects we should address. The plate is made of gold, speaking of Christ’s precious, immutable purity. It is attached to the linen (read: righteousness) turban with a blue cord, symbolic of the Messiah’s royalty. And where is it placed? On the forehead, i.e., over the frontal lobe. The frontal cortex controls our emotions and personality, motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior. If these things—what we do, think, and feel—were “covered” by our consecration to Yahweh, how far wrong could we possibly go?
(6) The SASH
“And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship [as the ephod], made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen.” (Exodus 28:8) The “intricately woven band” was made with the same materials as the ephod. The designation “band” here (also translated: waistband, sash, belt, or girdle) is a single Hebrew word: chesheb, which denotes “ingenious work” as much is it does “a waistband, girdle, or sash to attach clothing around the waist.” The word is based on the verb chasab: to think, plan, make a judgment, imagine, or count. We are being subtly told that the Messiah’s role in our redemption was neither an accident nor an act of desperation, but rather the very plan of God—the ingenious product of His loving imagination—conceived in his mind before we humans had even demonstrated our need for salvation. The chesheb is what holds the whole thing together.
“And you shall make the sash of woven work.” (Exodus 28:39) The word used here to describe the sash/girdle is abnet, used nine times in the Tanakh—eight of them in reference to the priests’ sashes. The outlier is a passage in Isaiah 22 which we covered in our previous chapter (“Accessories”), reminding us that the symbolic function of belts or waistbands in scripture is preparedness—“girding up one’s loins.” Isaiah writes of an irresponsible, self-centered steward in King Hezekiah’s house named Shebna, who was about to be replaced with a more faithful candidate: “I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and strengthen him with your belt. I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder.” (Isaiah 22:20-22) In other words, the equipping, preparing (the function of the “belt”), and anointing that had once been lavished on Shebna would now be transferred to Eliakim. The lesson is obvious: our responsibilities in the Kingdom of Heaven are not our birthright—they are provisionally entrusted to us, like the “talents” in Yahshua’s parables: if we are worthy and faithful, we will be given even more important tasks to do, but if we are lazy or corrupt, we can expect to be demoted. Note that Shebna shows up again in Isaiah 37, but as a humble scribe or accountant, no longer the valued steward of King Hezekiah.
Aaron (or any subsequent High Priest) wasn’t the only one instructed to wear specific clothing when “on the job.” His sons, the ordinary priests throughout their generations, were also to be dressed in a particular way, though not radically different from what the ordinary Israelite might wear. Their clothing had none of the heavy-handed symbolic character that the High Priest wore. The reason for this, of course, was that the High Priest’s office represented that of the Messiah, while the regular priests are metaphorical of us who follow Him—ordinary believers.
Moses writes, “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests….” So the regular priests (all the male descendants of Aaron) were to be “uniformed” as well, though not as splendiferously as the High Priest himself. They wore linen tunics, not unlike the basic garment worn by all the men, and their sashes were ubiquitous as well. No mention is made of the expensive gold, blue, purple, and scarlet colors worn by the High Priest: the regular priests’ sashes were apparently the same un-dyed off-white color as their tunics. Although the priests looked pretty much like ordinary Israelite men, they were set apart from them by their anointing—their specific consecration, a procedure that is described in Exodus 29 and 39, and Leviticus 8.
The article of clothing that most clearly distinguished the priests was their “hats.” These were different from the High Priest’s turban (mitsnephesh). The word describing the ordinary priest’s headgear (migba’ah) stresses its hemispherical shape. In Hebrew, the word is reminiscent of the yarmulke, the small cap worn by observant Jews to this day. This priestly hat was supposed to impart “glory” (Hebrew: kabowd—glory, honor, reverence, or dignity) and “beauty” (tiph’arah—splendor, beauty, excellence, a mark of rank or renown) to the priests as a class. Since the priests symbolically represent believers, I guess it should not be surprising to find that what’s “on our minds” (Christ and His kingdom), should bestow upon us “glory” and “beauty” in the eyes of our neighbors—if we’re living our lives as Christ instructed. (“If” can be such a big word.) You could say that these hats are analogous to the “crowns of righteousness” that Paul said belong to “all who love His appearing.”
And in case you were wondering, yes, Moses also mentioned the priests’ undergarments: “And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him.” (Exodus 28:40-43) “Incur iniquity and die?” It may sound strange to our ears that God seemed so prudish as to threaten with death any priest who entered the tabernacle without his boxer-shorts on under his tunic. But then we realize that this is all a Messianic prophecy.
The tabernacle is a complex symbolic presentation of God’s plan for our redemption, achieved through the sacrifice of His Son. Yahshua was stripped naked when He was crucified to atone for our sins—that is, when He (though innocent Himself) “incurred iniquity” on our behalf as He fulfilled the requirements of the tabernacle’s prophetic symbols. Isaiah explained what was going on, some six centuries before it happened: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) The utter precision of God’s Word sometimes drives me to my knees.
Of course, the symbolic nature of the instructions didn’t diminish the authority of the literal precepts. In Leviticus 10, we read the story of how Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, were slain by Yahweh because they “offered profane fire” before Him—burning incense in a manner contrary to that prescribed in the Law. Any number of “mistakes” were made by the two brothers, but it seems to me the most egregious of them was that Aaron alone—the High Priest, thus a prophetic type of the coming Messiah—was authorized to mediate between the people and God by offering incense (a picture of intercessory prayer) before Yahweh.
Nadab and Abihu had, in effect, “incurred iniquity and died” by trying to invent a religion, instead of simply doing what Yahweh had told them to do—all of which pointed toward the Messiah. It was basically the same mistake made by thousands of Roman Catholic priests down through the centuries: trying to interpose themselves between God and His believers, for their own aggrandizement. As Yahweh had told Aaron (through Moses), “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.” (Leviticus 10:3)
The only reason I bring it up here is that our current topic (the priestly garments) and the fatal sin of Nadab and Abihu appear in the same context in the instructions concerning the Day of Atonement: “Now Yahweh spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before Yahweh, and died. And Yahweh said to Moses: ‘Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.” (Leviticus 16:1-4)
Part of “regarding Yahweh as holy” was to don the holy garments as prescribed in such detail in the Torah. Aaron was to appear before Yahweh in the Most Holy Place (1) only when authorized—on the Day of Atonement (prophetic of Israel’s subsequent acceptance of their Messiah—a day characterized by affliction of the soul in response to the physical presence of their long-awaited Redeemer). (2) He must bring the blood of the prescribed sacrifices—a bull as a sin offering and ram as a burnt offering. Bear in mind that all of the Torah’s innocent-animal sacrifices, one way or another, point toward Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary. (3) Aaron must wear the holy garments, for he is the prophetic stand-in for the Messiah. I found it interesting that the ephod, with all of its blatant prophetic references to Israel, wasn’t mentioned here. But the definitive Day of Atonement will be significant to gentile believers as well: we know it as the Second Coming. (4) Finally, the High Priest must be clean when he dons the holy garments—literally with water, but also figuratively: the pure water of the Word of God, that with which Christ washes and sanctifies His bride, the church (see Ephesians 5:26).
Not surprisingly, virtually all of the explicit prophetic-symbolic specifications for the priestly garments appear in the Torah. But we are given a few glimpses elsewhere in the Tanakh that may add to our insights on the matter.
During the age of the Judges, a godly Ephraimite man named Elkanah had two wives, one of which had borne children, but the other (Hannah) was barren. Being grief stricken, she made a vow to God: “O Yahweh of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” (I Samuel 1:11) In other words, she made a Nazirite vow on behalf of her “theoretical” son. Yahweh honored her vow, and she bore a son whom she named Samuel (which means either “Heard by God” if based on shama, or “the name of God” if based on shem. The lexicons disagree on this one.) True to her word, Hannah took the boy to Shiloh to be raised by the High Priest Eli as soon as he was weaned.
It was understood, of course, that Samuel was not a priest, nor could he become one (being an Ephraimite, not a Levite). But his mother and father watched their son’s progress with gratitude and anticipation as they visited him year after year at the tabernacle during the feasts of Yahweh. Hannah even made sure that he dressed the part: “Samuel ministered before Yahweh, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘Yahweh give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to Yahweh.’ Then they would go to their own home. And Yahweh visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the Lord…in stature, and in favor both with Yahweh and men.” (I Samuel 2:18-21, 26) Sound familiar? This is pretty much how the young Yahshua was described in Luke 2:52. Could it be that Samuel was being “set up” as a type of Christ?
Having a miniature “High Priest” assisting his surrogate father Eli (whose name meant “God is high”) at the Tabernacle was probably the best thing that could have happened to Israel at this time, because Eli’s own sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were evil and corrupt. In fact, God purposed to slay both of them in a single day, as the Philistines fought against Israel and captured the ark of the covenant. When the ninety-eight year old Eli heard the news, he too collapsed and died, leaving no one to lead the country except Samuel. Although not technically a priest himself, Samuel functioned as the High Priest for a time (see I Samuel 7:8-12) and he judged Israel all the days of his life. But his primary function was as a prophet: “So Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of Yahweh. Then Yahweh appeared again in Shiloh. For Yahweh revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of Yahweh.” (I Samuel 3:19-21)
I find it fascinating how Yahweh can take one barren but devout and hopeful woman, and of her faith make a son, and so much more: a prophet, functioning as a priest, appointed to anoint Israel’s first two kings. But then again, Hannah had some pretty spectacular prophetic gifts herself: when Samuel was still a small boy, she proclaimed truth that makes my heart leap to this very day: “The adversaries of Yahweh shall be broken in pieces. From heaven He will thunder against them. Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” (I Samuel 2:10) If I’m not mistaken, this is the first Biblical reference to God’s Anointed (Hebrew Mashiach = Messiah) as Himself—that is, not “merely” as the High Priest (or someone else) serving as a symbol or type of the coming Christ. Note too that she referred to the Messiah as Yahweh’s king—long before Israel had even had one.
Half a millennium later, a priest and prophet named Ezekiel (whose name means “strengthened by God”) was shown a vision of a future temple. I imagine this brought great comfort to him, since, having spent the better part of his adult life in Babylonian exile, he never got the chance to serve in Solomon’s magnificent temple. Numerous and specific design details in this vision reveal that the temple he was being shown was not the second temple—or even the grandiose remodel of it built by Herod the Great, just in time to be visited by Yahshua. Nor was it the Last Days temple that will be built as a result of the Antichrist’s “Covenant with Many,” the one in which the final “abomination of desolation” will take place (see Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15, II Thessalonians 2:4). Careful examination of the dimensions reveal that Ezekiel’s visionary temple simply won’t fit on the Temple Mount. The only possible alternative, then, is that he was being shown Christ’s Millennial Temple, the one that will serve as God’s dwelling place on earth during the Messiah’s thousand-year reign in the radically renovated topography of Jerusalem. (See The End of the Beginning, chapter 27, elsewhere on this website, for the details.)
It is significant that, although priests are referred to frequently, nowhere in this entire visionary narrative is a High Priest mentioned. The key (as usual) lies in the symbology of the thing. The Levitical High Priesthood symbolically represents Yahshua the Messiah, but by this time (during His Millennial reign), all of those prophecies and types will literally have been fulfilled: He will now reign among us as King of kings and Lord of lords. But ordinary priests are referred to often. They are metaphorical of believers—we who follow Christ, who are born of His Spirit. The internal clues teach us that these priests serving in the Millennial temple will be mortals (i.e., not immortal saints who have been raptured and have returned to earth with King Yahshua at the end of the Tribulation, who are also described as priests—see Revelation 20:6).
Anyway, these mortal descendants of Zadok (a faithful priest in King David’s time) are given instructions concerning their priestly garments, and how to use them: “When the priests enter them [the holy chambers flanking the sanctuary on the north and south, where the offerings were to be eaten], they shall not go out of the holy chamber into the outer court; but there they shall leave their garments in which they minister, for they are holy. They shall put on other garments; then they may approach that which is for the people.” (Ezekiel 42:14; cf. Leviticus 16:23) The point is symbolic, but valid nonetheless: holiness cannot be passively transferred from the redeemed to the lost. Put in today’s terms, you can’t get saved by merely sitting in a church pew, hanging out with real Christians. Salvation, redemption, and atonement are a personal matter, a conscious choice, One on one. Forming a relationship with Yahweh’s Messiah, being born from above in His Spirit, is a choice that must be made by each individual.
The same principles, and more, are reiterated a couple of chapters later: “‘But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,’ says the Lord Yahweh.” It puzzled me, at first, to learn that animal sacrifices would again be offered up in the Millennial temple. Why, if everything they represent had already been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Yahshua—thousands of years ago. But then it dawned on me that after that first generation, the mortals born during the Millennium will have absolutely no frame of reference for what Yahshua did for them. They’re living in a perfect world, where peace and prosperity reign. Not only is the devil locked up, no longer able to tempt anybody, sin is no longer allowed to grow and fester, infecting society with its pervasive evil. Rather, it is confronted and dealt with immediately. Under these circumstances, it will be hard to comprehend what humanity was saved from—and how. But blessed or not, the Millennial mortals will still have Adam’s sin nature within them. So to comprehend their need for a Savior, they will need a symbolic demonstration of the reality of Christ’s finished work. Thus, “They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge….”
And what about their priestly garments? “And it shall be, whenever they enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments; no wool shall come upon them while they minister within the gates of the inner court or within the house. They shall have linen turbans [p’er: decorative headdress] on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat….” Linen, as we have seen, wicks away moisture from the body, while wool is an insulator, tending to make the wearer perspire. The symbols are transparent enough: we cannot work our way into a saving relationship with Yahweh. Good works are “good,” of course, but not as a soteriological strategy. They are useful and proper as a response to our salvation, but are worthless in achieving that status. So linen is used throughout scripture as a metaphor for imputed righteousness, something God achieves on our behalf, if only we’ll avail ourselves of His precious gift. Linen is therefore presented as the symbolic antithesis of wool.
Then the principle is repeated: “When they go out to the outer court, to the outer court to the people, they shall take off their garments in which they have ministered, leave them in the holy chambers, and put on other garments; and in their holy garments they shall not sanctify the people.” (Ezekiel 44:15-19) The word translated “sanctify” here (Hebrew: qadash) means to set apart or consecrate. It’s all a bit counterintuitive, because the goal, after all, is for the people to become set apart to Yahweh—to be holy, dedicated to Him. The issue is: how is this to be done? The priests were to wear their holy garments only while attending to their specific priestly ministry duties, but not when mingling with worshipers in the outer court. The idea was to prevent physical contact of the priestly garments with people, as if holiness could “rub off” on them. In other words, any hint of superstition was to be avoided. Real sanctification was to be achieved (as always) by grace, received through faith in the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice—a personal spiritual choice, not a rote religious rite, or worse, a happy accidental encounter.
Zechariah too received prophetic insights concerning the High Priest’s garments. Of priestly lineage, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel had been, Zechariah had been born in Babylon, but had returned to Jerusalem as a young man with his grandfather Iddo when the second temple was being rebuilt—returning with the exiles under Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest.
The first half of his book contains eight visions. The one germane to our study is found in chapter 3: “Then [the angel] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of Yahweh, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Yahweh rebuke you, Satan! Yahweh who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?…’” Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC. But God wasn’t done with the city of David, despite the abominations that had been (and would be) done there. In fact, Yahweh had “chosen” Jerusalem—the land of Moriah—long before it even was a city (see Genesis 22:2). Burn Jerusalem all you like, Satan: Yahweh will bring it back.
“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.” It will soon become apparent that Joshua the High Priest is being recruited in Zechariah’s vision as a prophetic “type” of Christ. Even the name is the same: Joshua = Yahshua. “Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.…’” Here we see the first inkling of a Messianic prophecy. Yahshua, of course, had no actual “iniquity” to remove, being sinless Himself. And yet, He would wear the “filthy garment” of a human nature for our sakes—a garment that would eventually be replaced by Yahweh with the “rich robes” of the King of kings.
“And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of Yahweh stood by….” If you’ll recall, the High Priest (the office Joshua now held) was to instructed to wear a turban with a golden plate affixed to the front with a blue cord (symbolic of the heavens). It was to be engraved with the words “Holiness to Yahweh,” stating in hyper-literal terms that being set apart for Yahweh’s purpose was always to be “on his mind.” Our ultimate High Priest, Yahshua, showed us what this looks like in the real world. Once again, note the transition from a dirty turban to a clean one, indicating that Yahshua would one day lay aside His humanity—his sojourn on our behalf in a fallen, filthy world—to assume His role as our High Priest (of the order of Melchizedek). This took place on the Feast of Firstfruits, 33 AD—resurrection day.
“Then the Angel of Yahweh admonished Joshua, saying, thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts. I will give you places to walk among these who stand here….’” Since Joshua was a fallen human, Yahweh had to couch His instructions to him in terms of “if.” But the One for whom he was serving as a prophetic stand-in, Yahshua of Nazareth, would live a sinless, innocent, and undefiled life. So for Him, the “admonition” would read more like this: “Since You will walk in My ways, and since You will keep My command, then You shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts.” We have a boatload of prophetic scripture stating how the Messiah will do precisely that.
Finally, Zechariah is allowed to reveal what’s really on God’s mind—explaining (sort of) the prophetic link between Joshua, Israel’s temporal High Priest, and Yahshua, the world’s ultimate Intercessor between God and all of mankind: “Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign.” Not only was Joshua a sign (a living prophecy), his companions signified something important as well: they represent those of us who would recognize not just the priesthood, but also the divine authority of Yahshua as King of kings. (It’s a bit off-topic for our present purposes, but skip forward to Zechariah 6:9-15, or see TEOTB, chapter 25). “For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua: upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’” (Zechariah 3)
We’ve got a first class symbol tsunami going on here: (1) “Joshua” is symbolic of Yahshua’s role as High Priest. (2) The “companions” are ultimately the ekklesia—we who honor Yahshua as our King. (3) The “Branch” is a reference to Yahshua’s royal status as the physical descendant of King David (see Jeremiah 33:15, Isaiah 4:2, etc.). (4) The “stone” is reminiscent of Christ in Daniel’s vision (2:34-35, 44-45) identified as “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” (5) The “seven eyes” speak of the Messiah’s perfect knowledge—He sees everything (cf. Zechariah 4:10). Since the “stone” is Christ, then it is equivalent to the Lamb (read: innocence) with seven horns (i.e., complete authority) and seven eyes, introduced (as such) in Revelation 5:6, where the seven eyes are also linked to the “seven spirits of God” imagery delineated in Isaiah 11:1-2, where the “Branch” reference is linked again. Confused yet? (6) The “inscription” is Yahweh’s promise of swift judgment upon the earth, accompanied by a reiteration of His vow to restore Israel, once they have repented and received their Messiah. (7) The “Neighbor” is he whom we are commanded to love, umpteen times in scripture (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, etc.). And finally, (8) the “Vine and Fig Tree,” when mentioned together, are symbolic of peace and prosperity we can expect to enjoy in the Kingdom of God—and especially during the Millennial reign of Christ: see Micah 4:4.
In other words, the whole passage about the High Priest Joshua is actually a prophecy about King Yahshua and His coming thousand-year reign.
The Wardrobe of God: Glory & Honor
Just as our scripturally ubiquitous symbol presents our clothing as “how God sees us,” we are encouraged to “see” Him in parallel terms: what does God “wear”? Yahweh is eternal Spirit, of course. He doesn’t “wear” clothing in the same sense you and I do. And yet, scripture gives us occasional glimpses of His character, couched in terms we can comprehend—His “garments,” or at least His environment. “Yahweh reigns, He is clothed with majesty. Yahweh is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength. Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved. Your throne is established from of old. You are from everlasting.” (Psalm 93:1-2) What are His attributes, revealed through His “clothing”? First, we see His majesty, His right and ability to reign in our lives. The word translated “majesty” here is the Hebrew geuth, meaning “excellent things, lifting up, majesty, or pride.” (Strong’s) It’s from a verb meaning “to rise up.” We’re used to seeing pride characterized as a bad thing in scripture, but in reference to Yahweh, it makes perfect sense: He is the only One who has reason to be proud. Compared to our Creator, the best of us is navel lint.
Second, this divine excellence is backed with strength—the power and authority to do whatever He wishes. And what does He want to do? We (being human) would expect establishing His own throne to be job one. But that horse left the barn in eternity past. Of equal importance to Him is establishing the world—that is, creating and maintaining a physical universe as a home for the object of His love—us—for as long as we need it. I am continually amazed at the lengths Yahweh went to so that He might have companions with whom He could share a loving relationship. There are a myriad of factors shaping our very existence that are so exquisitely fine-tuned that a slight miscalculation in any direction would have rendered life (as we know it) impossible. Yahweh not only had the ability to create and sustain life, He also has the wisdom to know what would work, and what would not. All of that, and much more, is bound up in the concept of “strength.” (Required reading on the subject: Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, by astronomer Hugh Ross; Baker Books, 2008.)
The Psalmist (quoted by the writer to the Hebrews) agrees: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain, and they will all grow old like a garment. Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.” (Hebrews 1:10-12; cf. Psalm 102:25-27) For the longest time, scientists and philosophers desperately wanted there to be a “steady state” universe, with neither beginning nor end, so they could ignore their Creator (and his moral imperatives) with impunity. But now they’ve been forced by incontrovertible scientific evidence to admit that the universe did have a beginning (about 13.7 billion years ago—not remotely long enough for the hopeful atheist fictions of the spontaneous generation of life or macro-evolution to be plausible, much less possible).
Rather than admit the obvious reality of an “Intelligent Designer” (known to you and me as the sovereignty of Yahweh), some of them have begun casting about for alternative explanations, each as ludicrous and insupportable as the next—like “parallel universes.” But others have taken to demeaning God, saying His creation—which He freely admits was not designed to be eternal—is therefore defective, so we needn’t heed His word. Yes, if the universe had a beginning, it will also have an end—the inevitable outcome of the second law of thermodynamics: the eventual heat-death of every created thing that has ever existed. But the Psalmist and author of Hebrews have beat them to the punch, saying, “So what? Yahweh (who is eternal) planned all of this—the beginning, the end, and everything in between.” That’s why elsewhere in scripture we are told of God’s other creation: “a new heavens and a new earth,” with new immortal bodies for us (who love God) to live in for eternity.
It is instructive to ponder why Yahweh went to all the trouble of creating a physical universe to support us “carbon-based life forms,” if it’s all doomed to be dismantled eventually. The answer lies in God’s fundamental nature: love. A loving relationship requires free will—the right and capacity of the recipient to say either “Yes, please,” or “No, thank you.” So, as counterintuitive as it may seem, Yahweh created us as a race of mortal beings (that is, with finite life spans) capable of responding to and reciprocating their Creator’s love. Why mortality? Because if we were immortal (like the angelic beings He had already created, albeit without free will) when we chose poorly, we would be stuck forever as living creatures with no relationship with the Author of life. We’d be spiritual zombies, so to speak.
So instead, Yahweh, being a God of love and mercy, made us as mortal beings with free will: we’d be born, grow up, make our choices, and then die. If we failed to receive God’s love, we would simply cease to exist (like the animals He placed here with us, no doubt to show us how it all works). No harm, no foul. At the same time, He built us with the unique capacity to “host” an immortal spirit, who would make our souls immortal as well—no matter what happened to our bodies. Being creatures of free will, of course, the choice as to whether or not we wanted God’s Spirit to make our souls permanently alive was entirely up to us.
The only “rub” is that Yahweh is no longer the only Spirit in existence. As I said, He created a race of immortal spirit messengers we call angels, and at some point Satan (a.k.a. Lucifer)—the most splendiferous angel of them all—rebelled against his Maker, taking with him as many as one third of the angelic host, whom we call demons. And unfortunately, it is possible for us humans to decide that we wish our souls to be indwelled with Satan’s spirit, just as we may invite Yahweh’s Spirit to quicken our souls.
We share the eternal destiny of whatever immortal spirit (Yahweh’s or Satan’s—or none at all) we have invited into our souls: life, death, or damnation. If Yahweh’s, we will spend eternity in intimate fellowship with Him—in a perfect environment characterized by His primary attributes: love, life, and light. If you choose nothing, you will be nothing—which is either a horrendous waste or the most tender of mercies, depending on how you look at it. But if you’re indwelled with Satan’s spirit, you will share his eternal destiny: the lake of fire, commonly known as hell. Don’t complain that God is unfair: He didn’t choose your destiny—you did. (By the way, I realize that this eternal plan probably wasn’t what you were taught in church. But the Bible—if you look up what the Greek and Hebrew words used to describe the afterlife actually mean—strongly supports my conclusion. See The End of the Beginning, chapter 29: “The Three Doors,” elsewhere on this website.
But I digress. We were talking about the wardrobe of God. The Psalmist writes, “Bless Yahweh, O my soul! O Yahweh my God, You are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment.” (Psalm 104:1-2) “Honor” and “majesty” are closely related synonyms. “Honor” (Hebrew: hod) means splendor, majesty, glory, beauty, or vigor. And “majesty” (not geuth as before, but hadar) denotes beauty as an ornament: honor, glory, magnificence, or splendor. There is lots of overlap, but the bottom line, I think, is that Yahweh is clothed with “every splendid noun we can possibly imagine.”
And what was that about Yahweh “covering Himself with Light as a garment”? Every pagan culture in antiquity had a “god” in their pantheons based on the sun—the supposed “giver of life.” Most of them had a moon god as well—supposedly the feminine counterpart to the sun’s masculinity. It took us the better part of six thousand years for us to appreciate the absolutely essential role that the sun, moon, and larger planets have in supporting life on earth—not only that they’re there, but the exquisite fine tuning involved. Their size, mass, distance from the earth, and a thousand other factors had to be virtually perfect, or we wouldn’t even be here. But apparently, nobody thought to enquire as to who created the sun and moon, the earth and the stars. Gee, maybe we should worship Him instead.
Scientists (some of them), realizing that because the universe had a beginning, it will therefore have an end, ridicule God for having created such an imperfect, temporary cosmos. But these scilosophers never take into account the myriad of prophetic scriptures that state that Yahweh, though clothed in light, is not dependent upon the sun. Quite the opposite, in fact. He plans to replace it—with Himself. Isaiah writes, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you. But Yahweh will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself, for Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:19-20) The sun will eventually burn out, whether in a thousand years or ten billion. But in the New Heavens and New Earth, Yahweh Himself will be our light, our life, our spiritual illumination. And He will never burn out.
King David described what Yahweh’s garment of light does for him: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) As long as God’s light is illuminating our path, we need not stumble over obstacles in the dark. But even when we do (as David certainly did on occasion), He is our salvation—our path back into fellowship with Himself. And He is the Source of strength that we (though we are but mortal flesh) need in order to prevail against any adversary.
Not surprisingly, Yahshua is said to have the same qualities (insofar as it is possible for a human to be revealed as God incarnate without violating our privilege of free will). First, Isaiah predicted it: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) John reported it as well: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [i.e., overcome] it.” (John 1:4-5) And Yahshua Himself explained it: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
Remember why Yahweh had promised to come in human form in the first place: the Israelites were (rightly) terrified of the Shekinah manifestation of God upon Mount Horeb—all that fire, smoke, and thunder. But before all of that, Yahweh had graciously given the elders of Israel a glimpse of God in heaven: “Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:9-11) This was apparently a collective vision, one they all saw.
I don’t know why, but they were not terrified as they received this “God’s-eye view” of the world through which they were walking. But immediately after this benign visionary encounter, Moses was invited to speak directly with God on the mountain, and that’s when things got scary: “Now the glory of Yahweh rested on Mount Sinai [a.k.a. Horeb], and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of Yahweh was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:16-18)
So, as Moses explained it to their children forty years later, “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And Yahweh said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) A prophet like me? If you’ll recall, Moses was known to physically glow after having met with Yahweh (as a Theophany) to receive the precepts of the Torah. So it should come as no shock that Yahshua would be described as “a shining light,” the “light of men,” and “the light of the world,” even if these descriptions were metaphors.
You were hoping for something a bit more literal? Okay, let us review the event (shortly before the Passion) known as the “transfiguration.” Bear in mind that the participating disciples had already chosen to honor Yahshua as Yahweh incarnate, so their free will was in no danger of being abridged here. “And He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.’ Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them….” The word translated “transfigured” is the Greek metamorphoó, from where we get our English “metamorphosis.” Meta means “change after being with,” and morphoo denotes “changing in form in keeping with inner reality—properly, transformed after being with.” (Helps Word-studies)
What did this transformation look like? “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them…. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!’ Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.” (Mark 9:1-3, 7-8) Luke describes it like this: “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” (Luke 9:29) Matthew adds, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) He didn’t stay “transfigured,” of course: He still had the cross to confront. And He didn’t (that we know of) appear to anyone as a personage of shining glory between His resurrection and ascension. Rather, Yahshua gave us a thorough forty-day demonstration of what we can expect of our own immortal, incorruptible, I Corinthians 15-style bodies—the result (and primary point) of the rapture.
All that being said, don’t be surprised if Yahshua lets His glory shine through when He reigns on earth as King of kings for a thousand years: “Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed. For Yahweh of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously.” (Isaiah 24:23) I realize the hyperbole here makes it hard to state precisely what the prophet was trying to tell us. Just how literal is this? All we know for sure is that during His Millennial reign, the glory of King Yahshua will be real, palpable, and unprecedented.
But a bit later, Isaiah reports that the sun and moon, though “disgraced” and “ashamed” in comparison to Yahshua’s glory, will actually be brighter than they were during the age of man—seven times brighter: “Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Yahweh binds up the bruise of His people and heals the stroke of their wound.” (Isaiah 30:26) What a contrast to the darkness that will fall upon the earth (in every conceivable sense) during the Tribulation. Christ’s second advent will reverse the curse.
If nothing else, we now know what technology will predominantly power the Millennial age: solar. In The End of the Beginning, Appendix 9 (“Energy Issues”), I wrote of what I saw as a great idea some guys in Northern Idaho are fooling around with, even if it is a bit ahead of its time: solar roadways. Basically, it’s “paving” roads with solar panels instead of asphalt. There’s a whole lot more to it, of course, but the potential is there to provide free electricity to the entire world—even with today’s inefficient solar tech and sunlight levels. Now factor in Isaiah’s sevenfold-sunlight bombshell, and we can begin to get an inkling of the sort of unforeseen temporal benefits we can expect, living under the direct rule of our loving Creator. Oh, and don’t forget that more sunlight would make green plants (read: food) grow faster, too.
But wait: it gets better. Near the end of the Book of Revelation, we are told of a heavenly city called the “New Jerusalem.” Judging by its description and dimensions (it’s roughly 5/8 the size of the moon), we can surmise that it will be positioned as a satellite orbiting the earth (or at least the new earth). We aren’t sure when the city first appears (that is, during the Millennium or only afterward, during the eternal state) but we can all agree that it will be a remarkable place: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.” (Revelation 21:23-24) Here we see that there will be commerce and communication between the New Earth and the New Jerusalem orbiting above it.
The best part? The New Jerusalem will be the eternal home of the ekklesia, the Bride of Christ; and our God will dwell there among us. “There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3-5) Again, we see that in the eternal state, the sun will be obsolete, in light of the glory of the Lamb of God. All the light we need, whether in heaven or earth, will be provided not by a flaming ball of hydrogen and helium, but by God Himself.
Since angels are spirit-messengers of God, we should expect them (when appropriate) to appear as He appears (in visions, anyway)—as beings of light, with glowing “skin” and/or shining garments. King David describes them: “Bless Yahweh, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless Yahweh, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure.” (Psalm 103:20-21) And another psalmist tells us that Yahweh “makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” (Psalm 104:4; cf. Hebrews 1:7) Encounters with angels, these personal emissaries of the Almighty, can be terrifying. Before they can go about the tasks that God assigned to them, they invariably have to tell us not to be afraid.
In his old age, Daniel received a vision of an angel that was so stunning, it knocked him unconscious. The men who were with him didn’t see or hear the angel per se, but they perceived something that made them flee in terror. The angel had to revive the aging prophet and calm him down in order to deliver his message—a wide ranging prophecy spanning from Daniel’s near future into the Last Days, including information about the Antichrist himself.
Daniel describes the encounter: “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:5-6) One gets the feeling that Daniel didn’t really have the words he needed to describe what he saw. He, like other prophets, had to settle for similes: the angel’s face looked like lightning, and his eyes were like fire. Even the “burnished bronze” of his extremities was gleaming in an unnatural (that is, non-human) way, though the angel appeared as an anthropomorphic creature, so Daniel described him as “a man.”
I think two of God’s reason’s for presenting him like this were at cross purposes with each other. First, He wanted to impart important information to Daniel, so he made His angel “human” in form, someone His prophet could relate to, understand, and communicate with. But at the same time, He wanted to ensure that Daniel perceived that the messenger—and the message—were sent from Yahweh; this wasn’t just some guy he met on the street who had an opinion or a theory. The glowing skin (and all the rest) served as the angel’s credentials.
Daniel had seen prophetic visions before. His whole career had been punctuated by them. The angelic encounters, on the other hand, weren’t restricted to visions, but were sometimes seen in Daniel’s waking experience. Indeed, the angels appear to have been sent to explain and clarify what the prophet had seen in his visions—so he wouldn’t forget or brush off his dreams. In chapter 8, for example, we read: “Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man.” In other words, he saw an angel. And then, he heard the voice of God (a theophany, using human language), instructing the angel: “And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’ So he [the angel, named Gabriel] came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.’ Now, as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep [an ecstatic state] with my face to the ground; but he touched me, and stood me upright. And he said, ‘Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation; for at the appointed time the end shall be.’” (Daniel 8:15-19) Nobody understood it at the time, but Daniel was being told that Yahweh is on a schedule.
This wasn’t the last time Daniel would see Gabriel. A bit later (right after the Medes and Persians had taken over the kingdom from the Chaldeans), he wrote: “Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before Yahweh my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision.’” (Daniel 9:20-23)
“The vision” would turn out to be the astonishing “seventy weeks” prophecy, the most significant and specific chronological prediction in the entire Tanakh. It explained the timing Yahweh’s future “program” for the nation of Israel, including the coming of the Messiah, to the very day—not His birth, but His formal presentation as the Lamb of God. It worked out to Nisan 10 (Monday, March 28), 33 A.D., the calendar day the Torah commands that the Passover lamb be brought into the household (Exodus 12:3)—coincidentally (choke, cough) the very day Yahshua of Nazareth triumphantly entered Jerusalem to the adulation of the throng singing “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh!”
This time, we are not told of anything unusual about Gabriel’s appearance. But then again, he already had Daniel’s rapt attention. We should note that in both instances, Daniel was either praying or contemplating a vision that he had previously been given. That is, he was not concentrating on his own temporal affairs, but was earnestly seeking God’s truth. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I think.
The birth of the Christ-child was announced by another angel of shining countenance: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The source of the angel’s brilliance is defined here: Yahweh Himself. “And they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11) Let us not brush over these familiar words. “Christ” is equated to “the Lord,” that is, Yahweh Himself! And the angel identified the newborn baby as “Christ”—that is, the promised Anointed One, the Messiah (alluded to as such in I Samuel 2:10 and 35, Daniel 9:25, Psalm 132:17), the Savior of the world. No wonder “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” This was the second-best news anybody ever heard.
The “best news ever” was also delivered by a shining angel. After Christ’s crucifixion, His dejected followers weren’t expecting to see angels. But then again, they didn’t really expect Him to rise from the dead, either. After all, He was always using metaphors and parables: this felt like one of those. Somebody had to tell them what had actually happened. “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow….” A few things bear mention here. First, the angel had not come to “free” Yahshua from the tomb. The Messiah had already left. The angel was “merely” there to roll back the stone so the truth about Christ’s resurrection could be made apparent to anybody who cared to look. Second, the angel’s arrival was marked by “a great earthquake” (perhaps an aftershock of the temblor that had split the rocks at the Crucifixion), as if to say, “This is an even more earth-shaking event.”
Third, his clothing and appearance were brilliantly glowing. This time the whole idea was to intimidate (or at least astonish) those who saw him—as if rolling away a very large seal-stone all by himself wasn’t impressive enough. The soldiers guarding the tomb would have to either faint or flee—but not fight—because dead soldiers make no reports, and witnesses (even hostile ones) were needed here. So the luminescent angel showed up, tossed the seal-stone aside like a frisbee, and sat down on it, no doubt with a big grin on his face, to await visitors. “And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.’” (Matthew 28:1-6) In other words, “I realize you have no frame of reference for this—Someone rising from the dead under His own power. But if you didn’t understand before, you should now: Yahshua is God—He is Yahweh incarnate, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Look at me: I am not just some guy out for a walk. My face and clothes are shining like the sun, evidence that I am a messenger sent from the Almighty with the best news that has ever been given to mankind: Yahshua has risen!”
Best angelic assignment ever.
Later, after six weeks of demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was not only alive, but inhabited a new immortal body with properties and abilities far beyond those of mortal man, Yahshua ascended to His home in heaven. “Now when He had spoken these things [i.e., His final instructions, pending the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, ten days later], while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11) These “men,” of course, were angels, sent from God to deliver some post-last-minute encouragement to the disciples: Christ would return.
The color of their clothing is described as white, but not your ordinary off-white undyed linen or wool. In Greek the word is leukos: bright white, brilliant and dazzling. The word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament—the vast majority of them in John’s Apocalyptic vision, and most of the rest in reference to angelic encounters or Christ’s transfiguration. The word is used of a “white” that is unusually and unexpectedly vivid or intense, even luminescent.
What does it mean for Christ to return “in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven?” It is described it as the definitive “day of Yahweh” in Zechariah 14:1. His destination (v.4) will be the Mount of Olives (the place from which He ascended), but His return will be a bit more dramatic than His departure was: His “landing” will split the Mount in two, leaving a big valley where the peak used to be. Then, in a fascinating confirmation of the pre-Tribulation rapture (not to mention Yahshua’s identity—His equivalence—with Yahweh), we read, “Thus Yahweh my God will come, and all the saints with You.” (Zechariah 14:5) Compare this to John’s vision: “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white [leukos] and clean, followed Him [Yahshua: the righteous Judge, the King of kings] on white horses [again: leukos].” (Revelation 19:14)
The context (in both passages) is clearly the prelude to the “battle” of Armageddon. In case there was any doubt, Zechariah lays it all out again for us. “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem….” Jerusalem will in the end be the Antichrist’s target, the focal point of his satanic hatred, the reason for the final confrontation: “If the Jews won’t worship me as their Messiah, I’ll kill them all.” (Interesting: that’s pretty much what Muhammad said in the Hadith of al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 1, No. 6.) But the Antichrist’s aggression will backfire. Without taking a breath, Zechariah describes the reaction of the Jewish populace to Christ’s return: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:9-10) This passage is in Yahweh’s voice, but the “Me” they pierced was Yahshua—proving (once again) that Yahshua is Yahweh: they are One.
The reason Israel didn’t buy into the Antichrist’s lies in the first place was their miraculous deliverance—obviously at the hand of Yahweh—from the Islamic hordes during the war of Magog. As much as the Antichrist would have liked to take credit for their rescue, his claims are not remotely credible. “So the house of Israel shall know that I am Yahweh their God from that day forward.” (Ezekiel 39:22) But I’m afraid it will take a few more years—until the build-up to Armageddon—for them to comprehend that the “Jesus” their fathers had rejected and crucified (exactly two thousand years previously, at Passover in 33 AD) was, in fact, Yahweh in flesh. And the words of the prophet Hosea will finally make sense to them: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh, for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2)
Whenever the prophets of God were shown glimpses of Yahweh (in dreams and visions, of course, because no one can see Him face-to-face and live to tell the tale), He is presented as a glorious Being—so magnificent, in fact, that we get the distinct impression that words cannot adequately express what the prophet was shown. Daniel, for instance, saw this: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated. His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10) In context, he had just seen the destruction of the fourth great gentile world power (Rome), and the one who led its final permutation—the one we know as the Antichrist.
The “Ancient of Days” is Yahweh, whose glory is beyond human comprehension (not to mention our ability to describe it). So, as with Israel’s terrified reaction to the Shekinah’s glory at Mount Horeb (see Exodus 20:18-19, Deuteronomy 18:15-19), a less-awesome manifestation of Yahweh was called for—Someone who could represent Yahweh before men, because He actually was Yahweh, presented in the form of a man. So Daniel was introduced to Him next: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him….” It is no coincidence that “the Son of Man” was how Yahshua invariably described Himself to the people He met. Though He was God incarnate (as demonstrated by His miracles, and ultimately by His resurrection), he frightened no one—unless they were under the control of Satan. His appearance was quite ordinary, except on those rare occasions (like the transfiguration) where He gave a limited group of believers a glimpse of His true nature.
But here in Daniel’s vision, we were being shown the ultimate demise of all human political power, up to and including that of the Antichrist. What can we expect after that? Chaos and anarchy? No, quite the contrary: perfect government, under the benign but absolute rule of the divine Son of Man: “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) We are used to experiencing human governments that we wouldn’t mind seeing destroyed. Even ones that start off well (like that of the United States) inevitably become corrupt over time. But Christ is sinless and incorruptible: when He finally takes power, righteousness, justice, and peace will reign forever—for He is the same yesterday, today, and on into eternity.
As long as there are mortal humans walking the earth, the only God we’ll encounter will be Yahshua our Messiah, revealed at last as the King of kings and Lord of lords. During His Millennial kingdom, of course, His glory needn’t be nearly as understated as it had to be during His first advent. But after the Millennium has run its course—after the Great White Throne judgment—we whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life will all inhabit immortal bodies. How will we see our God then? I don’t know, but as Paul puts it, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)
Daniel wasn’t the only prophet to see the One he called “the Ancient of Days” in a vision. Yahweh, true to His own precept that “only in the mouth of two or three witnesses a matter is established,” also showed Himself to Isaiah (and Ezekiel, and John, and others). “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw Yahweh sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” In other words, his apparel was magnificent, shown as such for the benefit of the prophet and us, his readers. “Above it stood seraphim….” Seraphim are an order of angels. Interestingly, the singular form (saraph) indicates a fiery serpent, as in Numbers 21. Outside of a couple of references in the Torah, Isaiah is the only Biblical writer who uses the word. Since a different word (nachash) is used to describe the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, we are left to speculate whether Satan was originally of the exalted angelic order of seraphim. But the imagery is compelling, especially when we see him as “the great dragon,” called “that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan” in Revelation 12:9.
Anyway, these seraphim that Isaiah saw are clearly angels of the “non-fallen” camp. “Each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke….” The imagery is reminds us of what John saw (in Revelation 4:6-8) where the six-winged beings also declare “Holy, holy, holy….” But there, they are associated with four “living ones” (Greek: zoa) who personify the four aspects of Christ’s character: the lion’s authority; the calf’s service; the man’s humanity; and the eagle’s lordship over the heavens. We’ll see this imagery repeated often: the manifestations vary, but the symbolic message is quite consistent.
In any event, Isaiah was shaken to the core, knowing he was a sinful man, out of place and unqualified to witness this heavenly scene. “So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.’” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips. Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:1-6)
Isaiah was well aware that God had told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) And yet, throughout scripture, “seeing God” is presented as the most blessed of goals. A few examples: Elihu reminded Job, “He [the repentant man] shall pray to God, and He will delight in him; he shall see His face with joy, for He restores to man His righteousness.” (Job 33:26) Job knew this already: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth. And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26) Of course, by the end of the story, he had seen God (in the form of a whirlwind), and the encounter had been terrifying: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) Ananias told Paul, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.” (Acts 22:14) And Christ Himself said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Other than John, perhaps, no one in scripture described his vision of God in quite as much detail as Ezekiel did. “Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind [Hebrew: ruach—wind, breath, or Spirit] was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures [Hebrew: chay—living ones]. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The [living ones] did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward….”
Again, we see the four profiles of Christ in these “living ones” sort of as John had seen them in Revelation 4, but with a twist: John had seen them as separate profiles (the lion, calf/ox, man, and eagle); but here Ezekiel sees then as four identical anthropomorphic entities, each with four faces (representing those same four character profiles) facing front, left, right, and back. So Ezekiel continues his description: “As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went….”
They flew as a unit, the direction of their flight indicating which profile is predominant at any one time. This arrangement stresses the fact that all four profiles belong to the same divine entity (the Messiah), but their (i.e., His) predominant characteristic as displayed among us (authority, service, humanity, and deity) shifts from one epoch to another, as the Spirit directs. Historically, we have already witnessed His humanity and His service; we are about to see His authority, and His deity will be fully apparent in time—and on into eternity. It’s worth noting that here in Ezekiel’s vision the living ones each had four wings, but in John’s, they had six wings, as Isaiah’s seraphim had. (Confused yet?) I’m not sure why, so I’ll just leave it there for you to ponder.
“As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. And the [living ones] ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.” (Ezekiel 1:4-14) It should be evident that Yahweh doesn’t actually “look” like this. Nor is He restricted to any single manifestation or another. The prophet was shown what he needed to see in order to comprehend and communicate God’s nature—especially as it relates to the object of His attention and affection: us. The key words here are “burning coals,” “fire,” “torches,” “brightness,” and “lightning.” Compare this to any life form found in nature, and we can begin to see the difference between the Creator’s glory and that of His creation. God is not “bioluminescent.” He is the Inventor of bioluminescence, the origin and source of both light and life.
As Ezekiel’s vision continues, God’s self-description becomes impossible to follow if you’re looking for some sort of naturalistic basis of comparison. The point (I’m guessing) is that Yahweh isn’t really like anything He has created. He cannot be understood, analyzed, or categorized. His holiness includes being utterly unique. What the prophet saw revealed attributes, qualities, or characteristics of how God may choose to function in His interactions with mankind, but this is not how He “looks.” Any way you parse it, the “wheel within a wheel” vision is as esoteric as anything you’ll find in scripture:
“Now as I looked at the living [ones], behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living [one] with its four faces.” A “wheel” (ophan) is just a wheel. It is anything that revolves on an axis: a cart or chariot wheel, or even a millstone. Our God is not stuck in one place, or one time. He goes wherever He pleases, whenever He pleases, for He is the creator of space-time. “The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness.” The NKJV’s “beryl,” or yellow jasper (Hebrew: tarshiysh) is listed as the first stone of the bottom row of the High Priest’s ephod. Also mentioned as Chrysolite (Greek: chrusolithos) in position number seven in the foundation of the New Jerusalem, this stone was gold in color (chrusos = gold; lithos = stone), perhaps indicative of the unfathomable riches of God’s love toward us. “The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went….” This reinforces what we learned above, in Ezekiel 1:12. The four “Living Ones” move as a unit, for Yahweh is One. Moreover, they move with purpose: Yahweh has a plan—the salvation of those of us who choose to reciprocate His love.
“As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them.” The “rims” of the wheels are where they make contact with the world. The “eyes” tell us that Yahweh sees exactly what is going on where we—the objects of His love—dwell. “When the living [ones] went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living [ones] were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.” Remember: these Living Ones reveal the attributes of the Messiah (humanity, service, authority, and deity). Their being “lifted up from the earth,” then, is a reference to the time in which Christ is not physically among us, but has ascended to the Father: in other words, the “church age.” “Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living [ones] was in the wheels.” This is really getting interesting. The Spirit is in the wheels—the plan of God, which revolves around the Messiah—i.e., the Living Ones. But the Spirit of God also dwells within His children—even when the Living Ones (i.e., Christ’s attributes) are physically absent from us. (See John 14.) “When those went, these went; when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for the spirit of the living [ones] was in the wheels.” (Ezekiel 1:15-21) The Holy Spirit’s omnipresence (not to mention omniscience) is essential.
The vision continues: “The likeness of the firmament [that is, expanse] above the heads of the living [ones] was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads.” Note that the Living Ones’ point of view in Ezekiel’s vision is from here on the earth, looking upward toward heaven. In some visions (e.g. Exodus 24:9-10), it was from heaven toward earth. “And under the firmament their wings spread out straight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body. When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings. A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.” (Ezekiel 1:22-25) These wings, you’ll recall, were a feature of the Living Ones, that is, the Ones who reveal the attributes of the Messiah. Their voice was like that of the Almighty. But at the same time, the voice of God was heard from above the expanse of the heavens: there is communication and fellowship between Yahweh in heaven and the Messiah on earth. In point of fact, the Messiah speaks for God, exactly as Moses revealed in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, quoted above, when he spoke of the coming “Prophet,” saying “Him you shall hear…. Whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I [Yahweh] will require it of him.”
The scene now shifts to heaven, the realm “above the expanse.” “And above the firmament over their [i.e., the Living Ones’] heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.” Ezekiel is once again reduced to describing everything he saw with similes and pale comparisons, for it was all too wonderful for human language to adequately express. “Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. So when I saw it, I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28)
All we can really glean from this is that when Yahweh condescended to reveal Himself to His prophet, He appeared in the physical form of a human being (torso, head, arms and legs) so Ezekiel could “relate” to Him on some level. But at the same time, He was seen as a brilliant, glowing, luminescent being—in a word, glorious. I realize that the word doesn’t do justice to what Ezekiel actually saw in his vision. Just for giggles, I looked up “glorious” in an online thesaurus. There were literally scores of entries, but none of them, I’m thinking, came close to what the prophet saw. My point is that if a word in any human language can sufficiently describe something in our ordinary human experience, then it is automatically inadequate to describe God—even in a vision. If we were to see Him in His full glory, we would not survive to tell the tale; and even in a dream, the best we could do is what Ezekiel did: he fell on his face in awe. Something tells me that in heaven, we’re all going to need an entirely new vocabulary.
It would appear that Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 1 was sent to prepare him for a vision he would see a bit later, one that depicts the abandonment of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple by Yahweh’s Spirit. If the prophet didn’t already have an appreciation of the glory of Yahweh, the subsequent vision would have crushed him. It begins in chapter 8, but we don’t get to the subsequent description of God’s glory (parallel to what the prophet saw previously) until chapter 10. I won’t analyze the whole thing, but merely point out some of the “telling” little differences that inform us of what we may have missed.
The first thing we notice is a sudden prevalence of the mention of cherubim (or the singular, cherub), a transliteration of the Hebrew kerub. They are mentioned twenty-two times in chapter 10 alone. These (like the seraphim) are apparently an order of angelic beings. They often seem to be found in close association with Yahweh Himself. (If you’ll recall, images of two of them, crafted in solid gold, were “stationed” at either end of the mercy seat that served as the “lid” of the ark of the covenant, flanking the place where Yahweh was—figuratively, anyway—said to abide in the Most Holy Place within the tabernacle or temple.)
Ezekiel is reintroduced to the “wheel within a wheel” image. Again, the ordinary word for “wheel” (ophan) is used, but this time wheels are also specifically described by a more evocative word: galgal, derived from galal, a verb meaning “to roll.” The idea, I think, is that we are to be aware of the wheels’ motion, like a chariot in battle, or a whirlwind. False gods like Ba’al, Allah, or Shiva (among millions of candidates) just sit there. They don’t ever move; they don’t do anything—good or bad. If you listen to their “prophets” and “priests,” they make all sorts of demands, but they never lift a finger to help (or hurt) anyone. A jihadist, for example, is happy to cut your head off for his god, but it’s only because Allah is incapable of doing so himself (mostly because he’s not real). Yahweh, on the other hand, is always in motion in regards to His plan for our redemption. No, He doesn’t micromanage our affairs or kill us when we sin, though these things are His prerogative. The whole idea is to save us. So don’t mistake His patience with senility or non-existence.
The evidence that Yahweh is real, alive, and “in motion” is to be found in predictive prophecy, in which He has a 100% accurate track record concerning the events and conditions that have caught up with the prophetic timeline. If you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament, and then ponder the impossibly unlikely political existence of Israel today (though these prophecies still have a long way to go). Or consider the huge volume of prophecy concerning the “Last Days.” Again, though many specific events, from the rapture forward, are still in the future, the conditions that were predicted to precede them—the “beginning of sorrows,” as they’re called—are all being manifested in unmistakable clarity before our eyes. It is as if the world is “pregnant” with God’s wrath. Think of its “water breaking” as the rapture of the church. With the sudden removal of the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence—worldwide—the pain of childbirth will begin in earnest. (For a comprehensive survey of these events and conditions, see my four-volume 1,700 page treatise on Bible Prophecy called The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website.)
Back in Ezekiel 10, the prophet sees the four attributes of the Messiah again, but with one significant (and telling) difference. “Each [of the Living Ones] had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, the second face the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 10:14) In chapter 1, verse 10, he had seen the same four Messianic characteristics, but there, “service” had been represented by an ox. Here we see this attribute represented by a cherub. The meaning is the same, but the imagery has shifted: while oxen operate on the earth, cherubim serve in the heavenly realm.
Remember: the context of the vision is of the glory of Yahweh leaving the temple because of our transgressions, step by painful step. This would be reflected in the change in the character of the Messiah’s service. He showed the face of the ox or calf during His first advent—everything from “pulling God’s plow” through the rocky soil of our sinful lives, preparing it for the planting of His truth; to being the Red Heifer whose ashes purified the Land from the defilement of spiritual death; to being our sustenance, the One we must take into our lives (with the Bread of Life) to nourish our bodies and souls in this world.
But Yahshua was despised and rejected by the world He came to save. He was crucified and entombed, only to rise from the dead under His own authority on the third day. So now that He sits “at the right hand of God,” the nature of His service to us is no longer as the ox, but more like the cherub. During the present age, He serves as our great High Priest, the recipient of our prayers, the only One who can intercede for us with the God of heaven—because He is God.
Will this “replacement” of the ox with the cherub be the case forever? Remarkably, no. In John’s apocalyptic vision, he too saw the four-fold nature of Christ: “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.” The point of view here is in heaven, looking down upon the earth. “And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living [ones] full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion [authority], the second living creature like a calf [service], the third living creature had a face like a man [Christ’s humanity], and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle [Lord of the heavens]. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within.” Sound familiar? “And they do not rest day or night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:6-8)
The face of Messianic “service” is once again being presented as a calf. Why? Because God’s plan—as revealed clearly in the last few chapters of Revelation—is to return to dwell among His beloved in the perfect environment He has created for us. This “dwelling among us” is the whole prophetic point of the seventh and final of the Torah’s Holy Convocations: the Feast of Tabernacles. Yahshua will come not as the babe in the manger this time, not as the itinerant rabbi, nor even as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This time His persona will be that of the Lion of Judah, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And it will become abundantly clear that the Messianic Lion is also the Eagle—the One who rules the heavens (though He chooses to abide among us, the blessed recipients of His undying love).
The last time the unregenerate world saw Yahshua, He was being mocked, tortured, and crucified for the “crime” of being (or claiming to be) a king. “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands. Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’” (John 19:2-5) A purple robe and crown, of course, were apparel that people might have expected a king to wear. The truth, however, was that Yahshua had never publicly claimed to be a king. Quite the contrary, in fact: after the feeding of the five thousand, He perceived that the crowd wanted to take Him by force and make Him their king, but He rejected their advances and withdrew to a mountain by Himself (see John 6:15). He knew the throne of David belonged to Him, but only by way of the cross—another persona for another advent.
Ironically, the whole “King of the Jews” claim had been a ploy put forth by the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees—the Jewish religious leaders—because they knew it was the only charge they could level that would force Pilate’s hand: “The Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar…. We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:12, 15) Of course, when they saw that Governor had posted Yahshua’s “crime” near the crucifixion site, as was the custom—“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”—the religious rulers didn’t much care for their own description of Him, either.
Pilate was well aware that Yahshua was commonly referred to as the Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One: “When they had gathered together, Pilate said to [the religious leaders], ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’” (Matthew 27:17) The real irony would have been if he had phrased the posted indictment, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.” Being an anointed king was implied in the title, of course, but “Christ” went so much farther: the Messiah was expected to be God Himself in flesh: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Or worse, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; Yahweh shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:2-6)
In the end, Yahshua was crucified not because He was a king (which was true enough, if a bit premature), but because He was God incarnate. It was something Governor Pilate could not have comprehended, but that the Jewish religious leaders were required to know, being the custodians of the Hebrew Scriptures. Pilate wanted to release Him because He was obviously innocent, but he got backed into a political corner by the Jewish religious elites. They, on the other hand, wanted to see Him crucified because of simple envy: Yahshua was popular among the people, while they were painfully aware that for all their pretensions, they were considered hypocrites and frauds.
If Yahshua had not proved He was the Messiah (with all that implied) by rising from the dead, we would have been left wondering who He really was. But He not only resurrected Himself (on the third day, just as He had predicted), “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by [His apostles] during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) It wasn’t only the eleven remaining disciples who saw Him alive after His crucifixion, either. He was seen by literally hundreds of people before His ascension (e.g. I Corinthians 15:6).
It is instructive, however, to analyze who did not see the risen Christ. As I have said before, Yahweh’s primary gift to the human race was free will, the privilege (and responsibility) of making our own moral choices. So although abundant evidence of Yahweh’s love has always been available, He has never crammed incontrovertible proof down our throats, for to do so would compromise our right and ability to make our own spiritual decisions. Yahshua was once asked what were the works that God required of us. He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29)
Job #1, then, is to determine who it was whom God sent. Not surprisingly, Yahshua identified this One as Himself. As He had explained to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up [just as Yahshua would be a few years later at Calvary: the “Son of Man” was the “only begotten Son of God”], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Not just “believe” Him—intellectually agree with what He said—but believe in Him—place our faith, trust, and confidence in Him, just as the snake-bitten Israelites of the exodus had been instructed to do in order to be cured. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18)
Reliance upon the efficacy of Yahshua’s finished work, then, was the line of demarcation between the saved and the lost. So note that everyone who saw and heard the risen Christ—everyone who received undeniable proof of His resurrection—was already a believer when He died. Were these folks confused and dismayed between His death and His resurrection? Of course they were. But just because they didn’t fully comprehend all the nuances of God’s plan (yet) it didn’t mean their salvation wasn’t genuine. We never comprehend all there is to it, no matter how much “knowledge” we have. As Paul insightfully put it, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away…. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (I Corinthians 13:9-10, 12)
Case in point: on the afternoon of resurrection day, two bewildered believers were walking home from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus—about seven miles away. “And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him….” Being believers, they had followed Yahshua, heard Him speak, and knew well what He looked like; but in His new resurrection body, Christ was able to conceal His identity, or alter His appearance and voice. We are not told how He did this, nor if it would be a universal capability among raptured saints during the Millennium. But it was necessary for the drama that was about to unfold.
“And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?’ Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’” It wasn’t that Yahshua didn’t know what was on their minds. He just wanted them to analyze the situation and tell Him in their own words what they (as examples of disappointed disciples) were thinking.
“So they said to Him, ‘The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.’” So far, everybody in town knew this much. But they went on to describe how their hopes of redemption had apparently been crushed. “‘But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.’” This is where their ignorance of Yahweh’s plan began to reveal itself. To “redeem” means (1) to buy back or pay off—to clear one’s obligations by making payment; (2) to recover something pledged or mortgaged via compensation or other satisfaction; or (3) to discharge or fulfill a pledge or promise. The disciples had to this point been thinking of redemption in terms of #3. The Tanakh was strewn with prophecies of a reigning King, and with Roman oppression such an aggravating component of their daily lives, they found it hard to think beyond political solutions like having their own King sitting on the throne of David. And indeed, Yahshua had been crucified (as far as they knew) for the “crime” of being just such a monarch.
Yahweh, of course, had something far more fundamental and universal in mind: His beloved creation—mankind—had become estranged from Him through their sin. So as far back as the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3, He had been presenting the paradigm that only the sacrifice of the innocent can reconcile the guilty with the Holy. What needed to be “bought back” (redeemed) was the human race; what needed to be “recovered” was the relationship between God and Man that had been lost when we sinned. Humanity had, in effect, mortgaged its life and liberty to Satan, and the only thing that could buy it back was Innocence Personified—something that was now beyond our ability to achieve, because we were no longer innocent.
So the two disciples on the Emmaus Road explained their dilemma to the incognito Christ: “‘Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see….’” The whole scene cracks me up. (Okay, it didn’t seem so funny at the time.) The eleven were all cowering in a locked room for fear of the Romans, but the devout women (who hadn’t always been so devout—among them was Mary Magdalene, out of whom Yahshua had cast seven demons) were up at the crack of dawn on that Sunday morning. Why? Because they didn’t trust Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (mere men) to have done a proper job of anointing Yahshua’s corpse with spices. But when they got to the tomb, they saw that the soldiers had fainted, the seal-stone had been rolled away, the body of Christ was long gone, and two shining angels were stationed there to explain to them what had happened: Christ had risen from the dead on the third day, just as He said He would.
Naturally, the women ran back to tell the disciples what they’d seen. Their reaction (at first) was, “We love y’all, but you ladies can be so hysterical. Calm down and tell us what really happened.” Eventually, though, Peter and John (the two most impetuous of the disciples) figured they’d better go and check this out for themselves. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they all didn’t go. After all, He had told them plainly what was going to happen (see Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:18-19, etc.). But He had also used many parables and illustrations to teach spiritual truths. None of the disciples realized that the passion was going to be this literal.
We pick up the story back on the Emmaus Road, “Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:14-27) Several points bear special mention here:
(1) We are foolish if we fail to familiarize ourselves with the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets—the Old Testament scriptures—for they conspire to reveal God’s plan for our salvation in a thousand little ways, in both plain and parabolic language. Cleopas and his travelling companion could have known from scripture readings in the synagogues something of what God was trying to teach them. But they didn’t remotely have the benefits of hindsight and technology we enjoy today: printing presses, communications media, the Internet—not to mention the time to make use of them if we choose to do so. I have been studying God’s Word for sixty-plus years now, and I still can’t honestly say I fully understand it. But woe unto me (and you) if we don’t make use of every resource that God has made available to us. To whom much is given, much is required.
(2) The whole point of the Hebrew scriptures is to explain how Yahweh’s plan for our redemption would come about. He used a plethora of methods to do this: plain language declarations from patriarchs and prophets from Moses to Malachi; parables, such as clothing our parents with innocent-animal skins (instead of fig leaves) to cover their sin, or the blood sacrifices of the Torah; types, like the life and adventures of Joseph, or the almost-sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham; dreams and visions of the glory of God (as we saw above); or angelic encounters recorded by such luminaries as Daniel, etc.
One might ask why God didn’t simply provide a single, straightforward prophecy stating in a couple of pages of plain Hebrew what He was planning to do. Why not just state outright that He would manifest Himself in the form of a man, live a perfect life, only to be executed for our crimes, rise from the dead on His own pre-announced schedule, ascend back to heaven, return to judge the world, and then reign as King for eternity? Why this ten-thousand piece three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that nobody is able to fully comprehend?
The primary reason, I’m guessing, is that Yahweh didn’t want Satan to understand how the redemption of humanity would work. If the devil had known that crucifying Christ could achieve the goal of reconciling humanity with our Creator, I’m pretty sure he would have done his best to make Him the first-century version of a rock-star rabbi, someone no one would want to kill. Also, I think God wanted us to learn to trust Him for the as-yet-undisclosed details of His plan, for faith is the essence of our participation in His finished work.
(3) This plan is so convoluted, it’s clear that our Father wanted us to be able to contemplate literally hundreds of prophesied details, and conclude that the Messiah’s coming could only be the work of His hands. It is boundless in its counterintuitive complexity: nobody would make up a “religion” based on such a wide range of “impossibilities,” from the virgin birth to the resurrection. The Hebrew scriptures require that He be the biological descendant of King David, reigning on Solomon’s throne; yet Solomon’s entire line was later disqualified through Jeconiah. But the virgin birth makes Yahshua the biological heir of David through Mary’s ancestor, David’s son Nathan, while His legal father (through adoption) was of Solomon’s line. You can’t make this stuff up.
Christ was prophesied to come from Bethlehem Ephrathah (in Judah), and from Egypt, and from Nazareth. Yahshua did—and no one else that we know of. Six centuries ahead of time, Daniel had foretold the very date of the Messiah’s coming, which (if you do the math) was fulfilled on the day of Yahshua’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Nisan 10, in 33 AD. (See Exodus 12:1-5 for the significance of that date.) And then there’s the whole bodily resurrection thing, as prophesied in Psalm 16:10. The whole schedule of the passion had been foretold in the first three holy convocations of Leviticus 23—the 14th, 15th, and 16th of the month of Nisan. The chief priests, having “blown it” by getting the Romans to crucify Yahshua on Passover (oops), then tried to ensure that He couldn’t escape from the grave on the third day, the Feast of Firstfruits (as Christ and the Torah had foretold). But they were powerless to prevent His resurrection. Big surprise.
It’s one thing to proclaim yourself to be someone great. Kings and conquerors have been doing that since the dawn of human civilization. It is something else entirely to fulfill hundreds of specific prophecies, some of them patently “impossible,” written centuries before your birth, that depend on circumstances completely beyond your control. The fact that Yahshua had done precisely that was what He explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
(4) And finally, there’s that haunting question: “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” The “suffering servant” prophecies were well known (and studiously ignored) in Israel. Much more to the people’s liking were the “reigning King” passages. Here, the incognito Christ pointed out to the Emmaus Road disciples that the two things were linked—that one would follow the other as day follows night. Indeed, it was the “suffering” (on our behalf) that qualified the Messiah to reign as Immanuel—God with us. It was not for nothing that John the Baptist had introduced Him to the world as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” in other words, Yahweh’s own innocent sacrifice. Israel, naturally, would have loved to be rid of the Romans. But they had no conception of the extent of the reigning Messiah’s dominion: He is destined to rule over not just Israel, but the entire cosmos, by virtue of the efficacy of His atoning sacrifice—to “enter into His glory.” Just because it hasn’t happened yet (as far as we can perceive), don’t assume it never will. His prophetic track record (so far) is perfect.
In case you’ve lost track, we’ve been studying “the wardrobe of God—glory and honor.” In this case, the glory of the recently risen Messiah was revealed in “stealth” mode: the two disciples with whom He was talking didn’t know the identity of the One explaining what had happened. But it didn’t matter: “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:30-32)
I don’t know about you, but this sort of thing happens to me all the time: God shows me His glory through the Scriptures. I might have read something a hundred times, but on the hundred and first, that little cartoon “light bulb” goes off over my head, and I finally see it. Call it what you like: an epiphany, a flash of insight, or in my case maybe the fulfillment of the Psalm 116:6 promise: “Yahweh preserves the simple.” But mostly, it’s what Christ told His disciples to expect: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26) Whenever I learn something “new” about my God or His plan, my “heart burns within me.” Something tells me this phenomenon will become more frequent and more intense as the day of His return approaches.
After the resurrection, Yahshua walked among His disciples for forty days (see Acts 1:3), demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that (1) though He had been slain, He was now alive, retaining the identity and personality of the Yahshua His disciples knew and trusted. (2) The body He now inhabited was “real” in every sense of the word, unmistakably human. (3) Yet it was also different from the mortal shells the rest of us inhabit during our sojourn on earth—equipped with capabilities and properties (like identity “cloaking,” instantaneous “time-travel,” and the ability to pass through doors or walls) that defy the laws of physics that constrain us.
Paul strongly hints (in I Corinthians 15) that this body Christ now inhabited will be the model for the ones His believers will be given at the rapture. We aren’t told if the “special” abilities Yahshua displayed in His resurrection body will be part of the new paradigm for us, but I have no reason to doubt it. In any case, the most significant of the new body’s characteristics will be that of immortality: in this body, we will never die, for we will have inherited eternal life in Christ. And even better (to my mind) is that this new resurrection body will be incorruptible.
I realize that this sounds pretty much like the same thing as immortality, but I take it to mean that sin will be impossible for us in this new body: it will no longer be part of our defining nature. Remember: the thing that made Yahshua capable of serving as the atonement for our sins was that in His human form, sin was physically possible, just as it had been with Adam. That’s why Satan tempted Him in the wilderness after His baptism. But He (unlike the rest of us) passed the test: having been confronted with the worst temptations possible, He remained untouched by corruption—He was the very personification of Innocence. In our new immortal resurrection bodies, we too will have become innocent.
Okay, so let me ask the provocative question: is the glory and honor that clothed our Messiah during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension all there is to it? Or to put it more bluntly, if we, at the rapture, are to bodily become “like Christ”—including inheriting His sinless, incorruptible nature—then are we to become indistinguishable from the reigning King of kings, just as we were (physically) during His first advent? No. What this train of thought fails to take into consideration is that Yahshua’s human experience, though real, was a “disguise” that God put on in order to shield us from His lethal holiness. As I put it somewhere, “Think of the Logos as a ‘hazmat suit’ Yahweh dons in order to protect us from His glory as He works in our world.”
In a way, this humanity was an answer to Israel’s prayer at Mt. Horeb, where they were terrified at all the thunder, lightning, and smoke on the mountain when Moses received the Law. Later, God reminded them of “all you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And Yahweh said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren [i.e., He would be human in form and an Israelite by nationality], and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:16-19) That promised “prophet,” of course, was Yahshua the Messiah, whom Israel’s leaders rejected some fifteen hundred years later, ironically, because He refused to produce signs like the thunderous voice of God from on high and fire from the heavens.
Fast forward two thousand years, and we see that the world is due for another paradigm shift of “Biblical proportions,” as the definitive Sabbath “day”—the thousand-year reign of the King of kings—draws nigh. As the Millennial Kingdom age gets underway, two “races” of humans will inhabit the earth: the immortals (including the previously raptured saints, who will have accompanied our “Bridegroom” back to earth from our “wedding feast” in heaven); and mortals who survived the Tribulation—the “sheep” of the prophetic parable in Matthew 25:31-46, along with the newly redeemed nation of Israel. Because of the presence of these redeemed mortals, Yahshua will not display the full glory of Yahweh during the kingdom age, for to do so would be lethal to the object of His love. That being said, His physical presence among us need not be all that restrained anymore.
Let us do the math on this: (1) The “work of God” is to “believe in Him whom He sent,” i.e., Yahshua (see John 6:29). But God’s Law states that “work” may not be done on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9-10). Thus “belief,” that is, choosing to trust and rely upon the Messiah, will (technically) be a violation of Torah Law—not “wrong” or “sinful,” so much as logistically impossible.
Why? (2) Because God’s fundamental gift to mankind, free will, implies the concept that “belief” includes the option of not believing—and with King Yahshua on the throne of earth, there will be no logical way not to believe. It would be like refusing to believe in gravity while you stand there on the surface of the earth. Your disbelief does nothing to alter reality; it merely demonstrates your insanity. But during the first four millennia after the fall, one could choose to believe (or reject) the Messianic prophecy of Genesis 3:15—looking forward to the redemption He would bring. And for the next two thousand years—the church age—everyone had the right to choose to believe in the efficacy of Yahshua’s atoning sacrifice (the fulfillment of the Genesis 3 prophecy)—or not to.
(3) There will therefore be no reason for Yahshua to maintain “stealth mode” (as during His forty-day sojourn among His believers after the resurrection) any longer. The Messiah/King will at last be free to let at least some of His glory shine through—short of inadvertently killing mortals through His very magnificence. Note, however, that as terrifying as the Mount Horeb experience had seemed to the exodus Israelites, no one died from it. I would therefore surmise that the physical glory displayed by the reigning King of kings could be pretty spectacular. After all, angels (as we have seen) often appear as beings of light—and their glory is derivative, while Christ’s is intrinsic.
So let us now scour the scriptures for references to the glory of the risen Messiah (as distinct from Father Yahweh, which we have already reviewed). Most of these are to be found in visions (primarily seen by John—the Book of Revelation), but there is one passage in the Gospel of Luke in which Yahshua Himself described to His disciples what the next-to-last days would be like for His followers. First, He says that we would longingly desire to be reunited with Him. (I’d say this prophecy has now been fulfilled in spades, at least in my own heart.) So He warns us not to fall for the false messiahs who are sure to show up, no matter how charismatic they seem to be.
How can we know who the false Messiahs are? Because the next time we see our Savior, He will not come the way the Antichrist (or any other false messiah) will—as an earthly ruler, a popular politician, or even the pastor of a megachurch. Rather, His return for us will be, shall we say, unique: “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.” (Luke 17:24) He’s describing how He will appear to us at the rapture of the church: instantly.
This is confirmed by what He said next. He asked us to remember two incidents recorded in Genesis that are “types” of the rapture: the flood of Noah, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In both cases, the “world” was totally corrupt, but this corruption seemed normal. Life went on; it was business as usual—until God abruptly separated His people from their sinful societies, safely sequestering them for a time while He visited destruction upon the world from which they had been extricated. “Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 24:30)
In both examples, there was a short time gap between rescue and wrath, a factor we can expect to see repeated at the rapture. Abraham’s conversation with the theophany in Genesis 18 demonstrates that it is never God’s modus operandi to destroy the righteous minority along with the wicked majority. Yahweh does not do “collateral damage,” nor are “acceptable losses” part of His strategy. Injustice and sloppy war are man’s tactics. Throughout history, God’s wrath has usually consisted of “leaving the world to its fate” for a time, while people exercise their privilege of free will, for better or for worse. And alas, mercy is a rare commodity among fallen men. But the flood of Noah and the judgement of Sodom demonstrate what happens when Yahweh takes matters into His own hands: the wicked perish, while the godly (i.e., those declared righteous) are saved.
Also, in both cases, the righteous were warned ahead of time that God’s judgment was about to fall upon their world, but He had prepared a way of escape for them—again, just like the rapture: “Because you [the believers of “Philadelphia”] have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10) These factors and more conspire to assure us that the rapture—our next personal encounter with the risen Christ—must take place before the Tribulation’s wrath begins.
The disciples’ last glimpse of Yahshua was on the Mount of Olives: “While they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11) In “like manner”? Yes. Paul explains: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18) Being “in the clouds” and “shining like lightning” are not normal human attributes, you must admit. But Yahshua is no ordinary human. This is how He will appear to His followers the next time we see Him: it will be in glory, and not here on earth but in the heavens—in the clouds.
Obviously, since the return of Christ to planet earth is a future event (actually, two of them: the rapture will precede His public, “official” second coming by several years), all the information we have concerning His ultimate glorious appearance is prophetic, even visionary. The difference is, in “ordinary” prophecies, the prophet is told (or inspired) what to write, either by God or one of His angels; while in visionary encounters, the seer is spiritually “transported” in an ecstatic state to experience something that is altogether outside the normal human experience. It is left up to the prophet to describe what he saw—which may depict objective reality, but also may contain symbolic elements that we, the readers, are left to sort out. As you might imagine, the line between these two modes of prophecy can get a bit blurry.
The book of Revelation is comprised mostly of visions that were shown to John the Apostle, in exile on the Island of Patmos, off the coast of modern Turkey in the Aegean Sea. He was able to write down what He heard and saw, as He experienced them, though the scene shifted back and forth from earth to the very throne room of God in heaven. The vision begins, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea….’” The Speaker identifies Himself in symbolic terms—as “the First and the Last.” In other words, He is the eternal God, the origin and destiny of all creation, a self-description He will clarify in a moment. The seven churches on His “mailing list” (addressed individually in chapters 2 and 3) would turn out to be a prophetic, sequential microcosm of the course of the entire two-thousand-year church age. This factor, of course, would not become clear until we were nearing the end of the series.
“Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.” What John saw was a mixture of symbolic and literal images. Let us endeavor to sort out the meanings of what he described: “And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands….” The lampstands speak of light—illumination leading to wisdom. Although it is not mentioned here, such lamps in John’s day would have been fueled by olive oil—scripturally metaphorical of the Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of completion or perfection, so the light being shown here is sufficient for all our needs. And they are made of gold, which symbolizes something of great value which has been made pure through adversity in the crucible of life. It is later explained (v.20) that these seven lampstands represent the seven churches in Asia Minor listed above. (That is, they are representative of the entire church age, through which the light of Christ would be revealed.)
“And in the midst of the seven lampstands was One like the Son of Man.” Again, God is presented as “the Son of Man,” a title that Christ often used of Himself—a human being, but One who was also known as Immanuel: God with us. He is seen standing among the seven churches. “[He was] clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band….” Belts or waistbands are symbolic of preparation—the capacity to “gird up one’s loins.” But since Christ’s job (the salvation of mankind) is now a fait accompli, His garment flows down to His feet. As He Himself declared from the cross, “It is finished.” His waistband is made of gold—again, signifying purity attained through adversity. This time, think not so much of Yahshua’s ordeal on the cross, but of the innocence that qualified Him to serve there as the Lamb of God—attained by overcoming the worst temptations anyone has ever been faced with.
“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.” Don’t picture this as “He got so old, His hair went gray, and then turned white.” The word translated “white” here (both times) is the Greek leukos, denoting a brilliant, dazzling white—the brightest shade of white imaginable. The idea, once again, is purity, holiness, and glory. Supporting this, we read: “And His eyes [were] like a flame of fire.” If there were any question before, this should settle it: though “human” in form, this “One like the Son of Man” looked far more glorious than anyone John had ever met—though he had known Yahshua (in His humanity) quite well. He was now glowing, shining, putting a whole new perspective on Christ’s declaration, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5). Who knew it would be this literal? “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.” The splendor John witnessed was not external. It came from within. Even His voice had an authority about it that was completely beyond John’s experience.
The account continues: “He had in His right hand seven stars [identified in v.20 as the “angels” (Greek: aggelos; literally, messengers) of the seven churches], out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword [the Word of God, backed by His authority], and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead….” Remember, John had witnessed Yahshua’s “transfiguration” before His passion. Though the four disciples there were appropriately awed by the encounter, no one had passed out. That being said, one gets the feeling that this visionary encounter, though even more spectacular, was actually closer to objective reality. Earlier, we were considering what form the risen Yahshua would take during the kingdom age. I can’t imagine (since there will be mortals present) that it will be any more glorious that what John saw in this vision. One thing’s for sure: nobody is going to be mistaking Him for the gardener this time.
The vision goes on to clarify who, precisely, was speaking to John. “But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.’” (Revelation 1:10-18) The “One like the Son of Man,” having resuscitated the shaken apostle, now revealed in no uncertain terms who He is: the risen Yahshua, the Messiah-King. No one else has ever answered to this description. Yes, angelic beings “live,” and yes, Father Yahweh is “alive forevermore,” but only Christ (Immanuel—God with us) can say that He was dead but is now eternally alive.
And let us consider this phrase: “the First and the Last.” It is used six times in the Book of Revelation to describe the risen and reigning Christ. Several times, it is paralleled with phrases like “the alpha and the omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) or “the beginning and the end.” It clearly means that nothing preceded Him, nor would anything “outlast” Him. But note that twice in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, this description is used of Yahweh Himself: “Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? ‘I, Yahweh, am the first; and with the last I am He.’” (Isaiah 41:4) “Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First; I am also the Last.” (Isaiah 48:12)
So let us lay to rest once and for all the myth that God is “three persons” (as the beloved old hymn puts it). Yahshua is not a “second generation God,” a junior deity, or a “divinarivitive” (to coin a word). As Moses put it, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) “One” here is the Hebrew echad: the cardinal number one, unity, alone, or only. The bottom line: Yahweh and Yahshua are One Person. They have one identity, one character, one personality, and one agenda. The only difference between “them” is that whereas Yahweh is God in undiminished glory (thus inaccessible, even lethal, to mortal humans), Yahshua has taken a diminished form, so that God might walk among us without harming us. That’s how Yahshua could truthfully tell Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
I have seen the Pacific Ocean; I’ve swum in it, tasted it, and felt its chill on my skin. I have been tossed like a cork by its breaking waves, and lived to tell the tale. But I cannot honestly say I have fully experienced this entire vast body of water. Now multiply that comparison by a trillion, and you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about.
That being said, in visions seen by John and others, it is not uncommon to see Yahweh and His Christ depicted separately in the same scene, as if they were “two different people.” The reason, of course, is that (as the old architectural maxim puts it), “form follows function.” Yahweh’s “job description” is to create and run the entire universe, while the Messiah’s is to operate as God on earth, representing Him among men. However, something tells me that as we reach the eternal state, with the day of judgment in our rear-view mirror and the eternal disposition of every human who ever lived a settled issue, the apparent “distinction” between Yahweh and Yahshua will become very hard to perceive. It will have outlived its usefulness. After all, “they” are One.
But for the moment, presenting Yahweh and Yahshua separately (by function) is still helpful. So we rejoin John, who has dutifully written down the instructions and admonitions of the risen Christ to the seven individual churches. “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this….’” Let’s review the circumstances here: John had just seen the “church age,” from beginning to end. He is now being invited to pass through a portal leading to heaven. The voice beckoning him to “Come up here” sounds to him like a trumpet. Could this be any clearer? It is a picture of the rapture of the church: the imagery is identical.
Whereas the One “calling him” was Yahshua the Messiah (the One we will meet “in the air”—I Thessalonians 4:17) when John arrives in heaven’s throne room, he sees God in another form—actually, several of them: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:1-3) John is once again reduced to using similes and comparisons of the most spectacular things in his own human experience—things of which we can rest assured fall far short of the heavenly reality. Among the things he saw were the “four living ones” we discussed above—that together symbolized the attributes of Christ: humanity, service, authority, and deity (much as Ezekiel had seen them, though with different imagery). But although the attributes of Christ are a constant fixture in the throne room of God, it is still (at this point in the process of prophetic revelation) instructive to keep Yahweh and Yahshua functionally distinct from one another in the narrative.
“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne [Yahweh] a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loosen its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.” The scroll represents that which Adam and Eve had lost in the Garden of Eden—our innocence. At first—for four millennia—no one among the human race was found capable of redeeming our fallen race, of reconciling us to our Holy Creator. And ironically, not even Yahweh could do it, for He had bestowed free will upon Adam and his bride. To override that gift would have made reciprocating God’s love impossible, for loving someone is an act of the will; it is a choice one makes. “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loosen its seven seals….’” The only possible solution was for Yahweh to somehow set aside His deity (functionally, anyway), become a human being, live a perfect life, and then sacrifice that life as payment—the price of redemption—for the sin of Adam (not to mention the rest of us). Yahweh had established back in the Garden that only innocent life-blood could atone for guilt.
John knew this, of course, having lived through it, having witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But it must have been a shock to have been perp-walked through the process of God’s plan of redemption between Eden and Calvary. For four thousand years, “no one was found worthy to open the scroll.” No wonder John wept. But now, to his profound relief, he was told to turn around and behold his Savior—the Lion of ultimate authority, the roaring, ruling, eternal King of Israel. (Was this not the “crime” for which He had been crucified in the first place?) But when John turned around to look, he received another shock:
“And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living [beings], and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” (Revelation 5:1-7) What qualified the Messiah to reverse Adam’s curse was not His authority or His strength—it was His innocence. This is why John the Baptist had introduced Yahshua as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Or as God had informed Zerubbabel, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
So was the elder making the heavenly introductions mistaken? No. The fact is, the Lion is the Lamb. Like the apparent dichotomy between Yahweh and Yahshua, the face the Savior shows us depends upon the task at hand. Job #1 was to reclaim our innocence, opening a door to reconciliation with our Creator—“opening the sealed scroll,” as it’s put here in Revelation 5. It gave our free will something upon which to operate. Job #2 will require the face (and roar) of the Lion: judgment and wrath—and when that has been accomplished, ruling over a perfect society on earth for a thousand years. The remainder of the Book of Revelation fleshes out how this will be accomplished, and will in the process show us more of the “Wardrobe of God—glory and honor.”
After twelve agonizing chapters (6-18) describing what life will be like on earth during the Tribulation (trust me: you don’t want to be here when it happens) we find ourselves back in heaven. The mood is jubilant, for the great harlot, code-named “Babylon,” has been totally, permanently defeated. John “heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her. Again they said, ‘Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!’” (Revelation 19:1-3) “Babylon,” in one guise or another, had been running things on earth, whether on the throne or from behind it, since the days of Nimrod—shortly after the flood of Noah. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, “she” has been manifested in three basic permutations: religious/academic, political/military, and commercial/financial.
It is my scripture-based opinion that “Babylon” is the octopus-like entity that will ultimately place the Antichrist in power, assuming they can rule the whole world through him as they have influenced nations large and small for millennia on end. The whole thing is explained (sort of) in Revelation 17. First, we see her “riding” the beast—apparently in control of it—in verse 3. But ironically, Babylon will be destroyed by her own “front man,” the Antichrist, and his allies: “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast [i.e., the allies of the Antichrist], these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Revelation 17:16-17) Actually, this sort of thing has been Yahweh’s modus operandi since the world was young: He uses (or allows) one nation to punish another for their sins. Canaan was punished by Israel, who was punished by Assyria, who was punished by Babylon, who was punished by Media-Persia, who was punished by Greece, who was punished by Rome, and so forth. For a visual picture of how it works, study the big statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, in Daniel 2.
This leaves us with a conundrum of sorts: if God leaves it up to wicked nations to punish other wicked nations, then what will happen when Satan’s ultimate evil dream of a “one-world-and-it’s-all-for-me” government takes shape? This, my friends, is where God’s glory becomes apparent. “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself….” It’s Yahshua, returning to the earth to confront and defeat the last evil entity left standing—the worldwide kingdom of the Antichrist. It is instructive to ponder why God would choose to operate like this—letting one evil eradicate another until only one is left (even though it has the strength of all the previous evils combined). My guess is that He refuses to share the glory of victory with anyone. For example, if Babylon were still around (or one of its components, like Islam or Communism), then when the Antichrist’s one-world government went down in flames, they’d be desperately clamoring to claim credit, plausibly or not.
But when the world sees Yahshua returning from heaven in glory, single-handedly cleaning up our mess in under a week (between the definitive Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles), then the world will know that He is God—which is not to say they’ll all like it. So John describes Him: “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.” Who are these “armies in heaven”? Does He need help getting the job done? No: these “armies” are us—His redeemed saints, the immortal Bride of Christ, the previously raptured church. We are there as witnesses, not as warriors. “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
Isaiah elaborates: “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?—'I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.’” There is only One who can answer to this description: the risen Christ. “Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me.’” That is, He needs no help, whether from men or angels, to defeat the final foe, the armies of the Antichrist, gathered in vast numbers against Him for the ultimate “battle”—Armageddon. “For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes….” This, it turns out, is no battle. It is simply slaughter, the wrath of God poured out upon those who dared to attack the newly redeemed children of Israel within the land God had given to them some four millennia previously.
The timing (if we put the puzzle pieces together) is stunningly sudden. This “un-battle” will happen within a few days after the Second Coming of Christ—the Day of Atonement, in which Israel (as a nation) will have met the requirements of the convocation: afflicting their souls in repentance before God, while answering and responding to their Messiah—the One their fathers rejected two thousand years previously, saying “Let His blood be upon us and our children.” “For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come.’” (Isaiah 63:1-4) The “year of My redeemed,” if I’m not mistaken, is a reference to the Millennial reign of Yahshua the Messiah upon the earth—that of which the seventh and final convocation of Yahweh, the Feast of Tabernacles, was designed to reveal.
In confirmation of God’s timing clues, the prophet Hosea writes, “Come, and let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight….” A “day,” as we are reminded (in II Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4) is symbolically equivalent in God’s sight to a thousand years. So let’s do the math. When did Israel reject their Messiah, calling down God’s curse upon themselves and their children? It was in 33 AD—almost two thousand years ago now. Therefore, when will the “third day” begin? In 2033. This in turn means that the great seven-year Tribulation will end within about eleven years of when I’m writing these words (2022). That’s right, folks: it will begin in only four years! God has given us enough information to calculate the exact date of the beginning of the Tribulation: Saturday, November 14, 2026. (See The End of the Beginning, Appendix 1, for the data.) No pressure or anything, but if you were planning on “someday” receiving Christ’s offer of salvation, that day has come.
Or as Hosea put it, “Let us know; Let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) It would appear that the “former and latter rains” refer to the two advents of the Messiah—the former comprising His “suffering Servant” role, and the latter His “reigning King” persona. By the way, the duration of the Kingdom Age is stated twice—in Revelation 20:4-5—as “the thousand years.” This (along with the Hosea passage we just quoted) lends solid scriptural support to the concept that the oft-repeated Sabbath Law is actually a prophecy. By observing the Sabbath day (and the Sabbath year, and even Jubilee), Israel was rehearsing the entire chronological scope of Yahweh’s plan for the redemption of mankind—from Adam’s fall to the day of judgment: the commencement of the eternal state.
Some, I realize, would disagree with my conclusions regarding the timing of the thing (33-2033). After all, my conclusions and calculations are based on what I see as solidly established scriptural symbols (like The Feast of Tabernacles being metaphorical of the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom, or the Sabbath symbolizing the seventh of seven millennia ordained for fallen man—in which his “rest” in Christ’s finished work is required). God didn’t actually spell it out for us. But the 33 date for the Passion is the only one within many years on either side that actually fits the Gospel narrative—with Passover on Friday and the Feast of Firstfruits on Sunday. Another thing: it fits the Daniel 9 timeline exactly—the “target date” coming out to Nisan 10, 33 AD, the day the Torah says the Passover Lamb must be brought into the household of Israel (see Exodus 12:3). Christ’s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on this date was no accident.
Another often-overlooked factor: it would appear that when God’s Law says a convocation falls on a Sabbath (i.e., such as the Feasts of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles), the definitive fulfillments will fall on a natural Sabbath—Saturday, even though the specified calendar dates often won’t. That is, the 15th of Nisan seldom falls on a Saturday, but it did in 33, the one year that counted. (Another word, “Sabbaton,” is often used in the Torah when a natural Sabbath is not required, but Sabbath-like rest from one’s labors is indicated.) Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Feast of Tabernacles (which must begin on Tishri 15) will commence in the year 2033 on a natural Sabbath. October 8, if you must know. Yahweh is not making this stuff up as He goes along. But whether my calculations and observations are right or wrong, be certain of one thing: “His going forth is established as the morning.” This will happen, or God is a liar—and He is not a liar.
The eternal state’s inaugural event is the Day of Judgment. John writes: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12) Seated on the Great White Throne is Yahweh, in all of His awesome glory—so much so that neither heaven nor earth could stand in His presence. And yet, the dead of every age—i.e., those whose sins are not atoned by faith in the blood of Christ—are seen standing before Him. (And no, I have no idea how this will work in waking reality.)
I’ve covered this whole episode in The End of the Beginning, so I won’t rehash the details and ramifications here, except to note that everyone being judged here is dead. That is, none of them are the blessed immortals who will inhabit the eternal state with God. But here, He has made them live before Him for one more moment. Their names are not to be found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, so the only possible basis for judgment is their works. I’m sure quite a few of them (if they thought about it at all) presumed that they were “good enough,” having done “what was right in their own eyes,” as the closing statement of the Book of Judges puts it—clearly meant as a pejorative. Free will imposes moral responsibility upon us, and any action short of absolute perfection (a.k.a. sin) is sufficient to separate us forever from our holy God. The only way to overcome this condition is to receive the gift of God’s offer of atonement—covering—for our sin. This has been true of our race ever since our proto-parents Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden.
From this point forward (chronologically) the only interaction we see in scripture is between God and the redeemed immortals. And as the new paradigm dawns, we notice that the distinction we have always been shown between Father Yahweh and His Anointed Son Yahshua has all but disappeared. The reason, of course, is that God no longer has to shield us from His own awesome glory. In this respect, we will have become like angels—spiritual beings who were designed to stand in the very presence of God Almighty.
Illuminating this truth, all three synoptic Gospels record an encounter between Christ and the Sadducees—the liberal priestly class, who denied the “miraculous” components of the Tanakh, things like angels (and demons), heaven, hell, and the afterlife, including the possibility of resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees presented Him with a “gotcha” question based upon a ridiculous extrapolation of the custom of Levirate Marriage (codified in Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The idea was, “A woman had married seven brothers in turn, each of whom fathered no children with her; so which one’s wife would she be in the resurrection—which we don’t believe in anyway?” “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matthew 22:29-30; cf. Mark 12:24-25; Luke 20:34-36)
We (who tend to like the idea of procreation) get so hung up on the “marriage” part, we miss the big picture: that when we have received our immortal, incorruptible “resurrection” bodies (as in I Corinthians 15:46-54), we will be able to stand (as angels do) in the very presence of Almighty God! I have no reason to doubt that our personal relationships in heaven will be just as close and loving as they are (or can be) in this life on earth; but this is not about sex. It is about the fundamental transformation of our bodies—formerly sinful, corrupt vessels designed to be home to our souls in this world as we choose whether (or not) to receive the love and forgiveness of God, to being transformed into immortal, incorruptible, sinless creatures, perfectly at home with our awesome Creator—not unlike angels in that regard.
Christ in His humanity was made “a little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), so that He could “taste death for everyone,” and as a result “be crowned with glory and honor.” But He, and we who follow Him, have something the angels do not have: the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. So although it’s never spelled out in scripture, it’s a safe bet that once we receive our resurrection bodies, the angels will find themselves “a little lower” than us in some ways. The question in my mind is: once we have been transformed, will we still have the attribute of free will? Or, because we have already chosen wisely in our mortal state, will our whole “ability-to-choose” function have been rendered redundant, obsolete, and beside the point when we have been made immortal? My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that free will, as a characteristic of humanity, may well have out outlived its usefulness. It’s hard to say for sure, because free will is what enabled us to choose redemption over damnation, but it is also the tool we used to sin against God. I’m just thankful it’s not up to me to figure this out.
Picking up the trail in Revelation 21, John writes, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea….” There were hints scattered throughout scripture that the creation as we know it would someday receive an upgrade, a complete redesign. If nothing else, the Second Law of Thermodynamics confirms scripture on this point. But it’s one thing to read these words, and something else entirely to comprehend what God is telling us. “No sea?” Since water is so essential to the present operation of planet earth, it’s hard to imagine a home without oceans. Yes, humanity will be immortal by this time, but what about other life-forms, whether animals or plants? (Trees and a river, as we shall see, are featured in the New Jerusalem narrative.) All we know for sure is that God knows what He’s doing. If the first creation was beautiful, something God Himself could call “very good,” I can only imagine (well, no, I can’t) how spectacular our eternal home will be.
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The New Jerusalem is the “mansions” or “dwelling places” in the Father’s house about which Yahshua told His disciples in John 14:2. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God….” As I’ve said a hundred times, the “tabernacle of God” is symbolic of His plan for humanity’s restoration—in a word: Christ Himself. So here He is promising to dwell with us, in our midst.
And as I noted above, the scriptural distinction between Father and Son, between Yahweh and Yahshua, is getting awfully blurry here, because after all, they are One. If you feel you must still see them as separate “persons,” you’re going to have to stay on your toes. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” These functions all seem to fall under the “Messianic” job description, or at least His persona dwelling within us: the Holy Spirit. “There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new….’” Back in Revelation 4 and 5, “He who sat on the throne” seemed to be indicative of God the Father (who was seen handing the seven-sealed scroll to the Lion/Lamb/Messiah). We are reminded, however (in John 1:1-3), that Yahshua (the Word), was both with God and was God, who functioned as God in the beginning, in the process of creation.
So I’ll leave it to you to sort out the rest of this, a description that fits both Yahweh and Yahshua: “And He [the One seated on the throne] said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’” (Revelation 21:1-7) Yahweh Almighty and King Yahshua have merged in form, as they were always One in identity.
Let us now take another look at the New Jerusalem: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:9-11) It would appear at first glance that the bride is the city—that the New Jerusalem is symbolic of the bride of Christ. But what follows is a physical description, with specific dimensions and building materials (which, granted, have symbolic significance). In other words, although the New Jerusalem is intimately associated with the Bride of Christ (i.e., the church), it is not purely symbolic: it is a real place. It is our eternal home.
Its dimensions (for a “city”) are immense: a square ground plan 12,000 stadia—about 1,379 miles—on each side. But it is also said to have a height equal to its length and breadth. The only way I can picture it is as a satellite orbiting the New Earth. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple….” What is obvious enough if we’re attuned to God’s symbols is now stated outright: the temple is Yahweh, operating through Yahshua. With God dwelling among us, personally, in unrestrained glory, buildings—even complex, symbol-rich edifices like the temple—are superfluous.
Yahshua characterized Himself (in John 8:12, 9:5, etc.) as “the light of the world.” Here we see that this is far more than a mere metaphor: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Again, we see the equivalence of God and the Lamb: they are both/together the source of light in the New Jerusalem. The God-light in the New Jerusalem will also illuminate the New Earth: “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light….” This would appear to support the concept of the New Jerusalem orbiting the New Earth as a satellite.
At this point, it would seem appropriate to try to sort out the populations of the New Jerusalem and the New Earth. We already saw (in Revelation 21:3) that the New Jerusalem will be the home of the Bride of Christ—i.e., the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of Christ (not to be confused with the visible church, which is a mixed bag of believers and pretenders—see the Matthew 13 parables, or Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3). But who are these “nations”? We know they’re all redeemed immortals, for this is subsequent to the Great White Throne judgment. And now we learn that there is commerce and communication between the two places: “And the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it….” But how do the demographics break down?
I would guess (and it’s only a theory, because we aren’t told) that the inhabitants of the New Earth will be the descendants of the original Millennial mortals—the “sheep” of Matthew 25:32-33. The differentiating factor would seem be the issue of faith. They were born during the Millennium and received Christ’s salvation, subsequently receiving their immortal bodies at the end of the Kingdom age—just like the church-age saints did at the rapture. But during the time they were mortal, there was never any question that King Yahshua was God incarnate: “faith” (in the sense of trusting without proof, of reliance beyond reason) was technically impossible. Rejecting His love during the Millennium, while possible (see Revelation 20:7-9) will require a total suspension of rational thought: rebellion against sanity.
This line of reasoning would imply that people who came to faith before Yahshua’s first advent might be included within the “ekklesia” definition—those “called out” of the world into a relationship with God, whether Jews (like David and Daniel) or gentiles (like Noah and Naaman), as far as their eternal home is concerned. Bear in mind that during the two thousand years of the church age, “there was neither Jew nor Greek.” That is, redeemed Israelites were counted among the church-age saints without regard to their ethnicity. But Israel, as a nation, will (according to the apparent timeline) come to faith in their Messiah only after the church age is over: a mere five days before the beginning of the Millennial age—on the definitive Day of Atonement, coinciding with Christ’s Second Coming. So the redeemed and restored Israel could well lead the immortal “nations” on the New Earth. But God’s plan in this regard is not terribly clear in scripture, so we can’t be dogmatic.
Anyway, like any gated city in antiquity, people will come and go. “[The New Jerusalem’s] gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).” In other words, the gates will never be closed, for any reason. “And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:22-27) Again, the only way I can envision this as a literal scenario is as a portrayal of the eternal state—after the Millennial Sabbath has run its course and the Great White Throne judgment is past. Everyone left, whether in the New Heavens, the New Earth, or the New Jerusalem, has received his or her immortal, incorruptible body. That is to say, the reason “nothing that defiles” (etc.) will be able to enter the New Jerusalem is that such things no longer exist in God’s universe.
The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem (named in honor of the twelve sons of Israel) are tended by angels, but they’re never shut, restricting entrance to the city. Rather, they stand as an eternal reminder that Israel was the portal through which the world met its Redeemer, Yahshua. Myriads of people throughout the ages have hated Israel. They don’t even know why. Israel isn’t guiltless, of course. But God has gone out of His way to inform us that they are literally the doorway to heaven.
So throughout eternity, there will be no impediment to bringing the honor and glory of men to God, nor of His glory palpably permeating the New Earth in return. We were taught to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Here we see the ultimate answer to that prayer. This, of course, is as it always should have been. But compare it to what we see today: glorifying God in today’s sinful world is more likely to be met with apathy, ridicule, or gunfire, than it is with honor and reverence. This present world doesn’t seem to mind religion too much, but it hates the genuine worship of the One True God. Even during the Millennium, Yahshua will have to “rule with a rod of iron.” But in the eternal state, our God will finally be worshiped as He ought to have been all along: in spirit and in truth—no exceptions, no reservations, and no misunderstanding. As Paul observed, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)
We have learned that on the New Earth there is to be no “sea” (presumably in the sense of vast oceans covering much of the planet as they do now). But water—and lots of it—is nevertheless going to be a feature of the new creation paradigm. Speaking again of the New Jerusalem, John writes, “And he [the angelic guide] showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb….” This is reminiscent of a river (actually, two of them) flowing from beneath the Millennial temple, healing the dead oceans (victims of the Tribulation’s terrors, especially the Second Bowl judgment, Revelation 16:3). And we are reminded that there were four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden in the primeval earth.
Earlier in The Torah Code, I wrote an entire chapter (volume 1, chapter 3.4) on the symbology of “Water: Restoration and Cleansing.” It is one of the seven things in our present world that Yahweh uses as metaphors to teach us what He is like. There, I wrote, “Rivers tend to follow certain patterns of behavior, and perhaps we can draw some cogent analogies from the way water flows in nature. The “point” of a river is to get the water from the headwaters, high in the mountains, to the sea, providing life and sustenance to whatever it encounters along the way. We can view the mountains as the majestic throne of God, and the sea as the mass of lost and needy humanity. We believers are the river connecting the two, carrying the Spirit to its intended destination. So how do the waters (the Spirit) move? The driving force is gravity: water flows downhill. Gravity, I’d say, is analogous to the urgency, the seriousness, with which we approach the Word of God.”
But now, in the eternal state, there is “no more sea,” that is, no more “lost and needy humanity” to reach. And yet the blessings of God still flow forth from His everlasting throne. “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month….” Once again, let us refer back to the Eden narrative, for some of the same terminology is being used here. In Genesis 2 and 3, two specific trees (among a plethora of varieties) are mentioned: the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This latter tree was the basis of the only “law” in Eden: don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. Apparently, both trees were planted near each other in the middle of the garden (compare Genesis 2:9 with 3:3). We all know what happened: the serpent (Satan) tempted Eve, she ate the fruit of the no-no tree, and persuaded her husband Adam to eat as well. Sin had entered the world, and with it, death—the separation of Yahweh’s Spirit from the soul of mankind. And God and Man alike have spent the last six thousand years endeavoring to heal that breach.
Evicting Adam and Eve from the Garden was one of those “severe mercies” we find so uncomfortable. It is explained (in Genesis 3:22) that if our parents had eaten of the tree of life in their new sinful state, they would have lived forever, presumably growing more corrupt and decrepit with each passing year. It would have been the worst of curses. So Adam and his bride were made mortal, subject to physical death. The whole creation was so pristine, Adam lived on for 930 years, but in the end, he went the way of all men—to the grave.
But here in the New Jerusalem, the fruit of the tree of life will be freely available to all, for everyone (both here and on the New Earth) will have received a new, immortal, incorruptible body, built for eternity in the presence of God. We are told of the miraculous nature of the crop—twelve different kinds of fruit, and a new harvest each month. And it’s not just the fruit: “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations….” These “nations,” as we have seen, will inhabit the New Earth, about which (if I’m seeing this correctly) the New Jerusalem will orbit.
All of a sudden, my head is full of logistics questions. I’m sure it will all make sense when the time comes (although time itself is a concept that will be obsolete in the eternal state). But let us finish reading the passage before we consider my inquiries. “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5) The final reversal of the curse of Adam is the key to the whole thing, and God’s Word is the record of how He has brought this to pass. Of particular note is the awesome paradigm shift: we have gone from “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live,” (Exodus 33:20) to “They [His servants—us] shall see His face.” Wow! We’re back in the Garden of Eden, but even better: this time there is no possibility of us falling back into sin. Been there, done that, wasn’t much fun.
But as I said, there are questions implied in this passage that I can’t quite get my head around. (1) In the eternal state, how can we tell how long a “month” is? We’re used to measuring time by the luminescent bodies Yahweh placed in the heavens: “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19) If the sun is no longer necessary in the new creation, if “there shall be no night there” because “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it; the Lamb is its light,” (Revelation 21:23) then how are we to gauge the one-month “seasons” of the tree of life? I guess it will all make sense when we get there.
(2) At this point, “God [has wiped] away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) So how is it that “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations?” Maybe the whole image is symbolic. Leaves are the component of a tree through which light (an attribute of God’s nature) is transformed into the chemical energy the tree needs to produce fruit. (The process is called photosynthesis in our present world.) The other necessary component is water (another symbolic attribute of God’s nature), drawn up through the tree’s roots. Remember, these trees of life are planted next to the river of the pure water of life that flows from God’s throne. At the same time, leaves take in carbon dioxide from the air, while exhaling oxygen. And again, we are reminded of another fundamental characteristic of God’s revealed being—air, breath, or wind: inspiration. (See volume 1, unit 3 of this work for a comprehensive exploration of “God’s Self-Portrait.”) So perhaps, when John is told that “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” it is simply a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s ongoing restoration of the souls of men. In other words, it’s a statement of spiritual fact, regardless of the chronology of the thing. Just a theory.
(3) I guess my most fundamental question regarding the eternal state is, how will we perceive our God? Specifically, will any functional distinction remain between Father Yahweh, Yahshua the Messiah, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the glory of the Shekinah, and the Theophany who walked in the Garden, one on One, with Adam in the cool breeze (Hebrew: ruach—literally Spirit) of the day? I realize that human vocabulary is woefully inadequate to describe His glory, His honor, His power, and the unfathomable depths of His love. But how can the awesome grandeur of the One who spoke the universe into existence be reconciled with the God whose intimate fellowship we (or at least I) crave with every fiber of our being?
As we have reviewed John’s portrayal (in Revelation 21 and 22) of the New Creation in which we redeemed humans will spend eternity with our God, it has become increasingly apparent that the functional distinction that has always existed in the human experience between Almighty Yahweh and any of a number of His “dialed-down” manifestations of God among men will be unnecessary in the eternal state. Theophanies, glorious Shekinah appearances, subconscious visitations (dreams and visions), and Messianic advents (whether as the prophesied Suffering Servant or the Reigning King) have always, of necessity, been presented as being “less awesome” than God actually is. It is the only way we puny people have been able to survive the encounters. And the Holy Spirit? No one has ever even seen this manifestation of God who dwells within our souls—invisible, except for the effect we experience within our lives. As Yahshua told Nicodemus, “The wind [Greek pneuma, equivalent to the Hebrew ruach: spirit] blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit [pneuma].” (John 3:8)
Remember back when I began exploring clothing as a symbol of “how God sees us”? It would appear that the same thing is true of how we see God: He is said in scripture to be clothed in glory, honor, splendor, radiance, and power. We who are redeemed can easily “see” these attributes, though the world at large is willingly blind to the truth. Of course, in this present life, we must view Yahweh’s characteristics through the eyes of faith. In the eternal state, however, even faith will become obsolete: we will see God as He really is, and know Him not as the divine “hero” of scriptural legend, but as our most intimate personal friend. In the meantime, however, we must suffice with inspired descriptions from faithful men—images that are admittedly beyond our ability to fully comprehend.
Let us begin with John’s introductory insight: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…. And the Word became 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 1:1-5, 14) The concept of Christ as the “Word” (Greek: logos) is an eye-opener. It says that Yahshua was a statement from Yahweh, embodying an idea—the expression of thought in the mind of God, His mode of communication with fallen man. On the lips of God, of course, a spoken Word takes on the proportions of ultimate truth, a divine commandment or decree, or a solemn promise.
And remember, the word translated “glory” here is the Greek doxa, in which the concept of glory, honor, or divine splendor is derivative. The basic meaning is “one’s opinion—what one thinks.” When we speak of God’s glory, then, we are referring to the spoken Word that reveals what He thinks, plans, and accomplishes in our world. The Word of God, then, is Yahshua the Messiah—the very expression of the glory of Yahweh.
The writer to the Hebrews elaborates: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3) Think not of a “Son” (as we might in our generation) as one who comes after the Father—a “second generation deity.” The “son” in Biblical culture was regarded as his father’s representative, the one who contends with the father’s adversaries in a public forum (see Psalm 127:4-5). They shared the same name, reputation, trade, character, and agenda. The “Son” is, so to speak, the “Word” of His Father. This is precisely how Yahshua the Messiah functioned on behalf of Yahweh in this world. He is the “brightness of His glory” in a “less lethal” format.
Yahweh’s glory is not there as a club with which He intends to beat us lesser creatures into submission. Rather, He uses His glory to lift us up: “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (II Peter 1:3-4) As counterintuitive as it may seem, God’s glory and virtue are intended to allow—nay, encourage us—to “partake in the very nature” of God.
So we need to examine our lives to determine who we’re really trying to glorify. As Yahshua said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:18) In context, Christ is unabashedly claiming to having been sent by Yahweh Himself: He’s not speaking on His own behalf, but is fulfilling the function of a Son—representing His Father. And since Father Yahweh is holy, the Son is truth and righteousness personified. It would have been an outlandish, blasphemous thing to say, had it not been true. Ironically, the only ones who couldn’t perceive the truth of His claim were, in fact, “speaking from themselves” and “seeking their own glory.” But those who listened to His words, saw His miracles, and glorified God accordingly, were thereby declared righteous.
In His first-century advent, Yahshua came in the persona of the Son of Man (that is, as a mortal human being) in order that he might function as the Son of God (Yahweh’s representative). When we see Him next (and soon, I perceive) He will come in His own glory—reigning as God and King for a thousand years from Jerusalem. So it is the respect and reverence we show Him now, before He returns and removes all doubt, that declares our relationship with Him to be genuine. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26) Note that the Son’s glorious persona is equivalent to the Father’s.
Interestingly, the glory of the angelic messengers is also recruited as an example of the splendor of God. This makes perfect sense, because (I’m pretty sure) we will never see Yahweh in His undiminished glory, nor have we yet seen Yahshua’s divine magnificence (except for Peter, James, and John—the witnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration). But scripture is peppered with instances of angelic visitation. These are so awesome (even though their glory is derivative) that the first thing they say is usually, “Don’t be afraid.” Something tells me, however, that they won’t be stopping to issue calming assurances when they administer the Trumpet and Bowl judgments of the Great Tribulation.
Yahshua’s “divine magnificence” will not be seen on the earth until the definitive Day of Atonement (a.k.a. the Second Coming), five days before the end of the Tribulation. On that day, He will return in glory to the Mount of Olives, setting off the first earthquake worthy of the name (see Revelation 16:17-21; Zechariah 14:4, Acts 1:11, etc.). Zechariah describes the encounter: “And I [this is in Yahweh’s voice] will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.” Here is another confirmation—from the very lips of God—that Yahweh and Yahshua are One Person. “Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10) The crux of the Day of Atonement, you’ll recall, is that Israel was to “afflict their souls” (Leviticus 23:27, 29, 32). The Hebrew verb describing this affliction is anah, which also means “to answer, respond, or speak: to give testimony.” That’s a pretty good description of what’s happening here.
Christ Himself described His coming this way: “The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27) Again, we told that the glory of the returning King Yahshua is indistinguishable from that of Father Yahweh, for they are the same person.
One more time, just in case we missed it: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32) This time, the glory is described as belonging to Christ in His role of King of kings. This familiar story is often described as a parable, but it’s not: it’s a straightforward prophecy of how the returning King will judge (that is, differentiate according to a legal standard) the mortal populations of planet earth as the Kingdom age begins. He, as the Lamb of God (see Revelation 5) is the only one qualified to do so.
The “throne of His glory” may reside in Jerusalem, but “the nations gathered before Him” are just that: the entire still-living population of planet earth as the Tribulation draws to a merciful close. “Blessed be Yahweh-God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” (Psalm 72:18-19) We’re used to reading worshipful songs of praise like this in the Psalms, but if we think about it, this represents a complete paradigm shift—a return to a spiritual status the world hasn’t seen since Adam left Eden. When sin entered the world, and death with it, the glory of God was of necessity hidden from mankind.
Why? Because as creatures uniquely endowed with free will, the fallen human race was now faced with a dilemma. How could we freely choose to receive and reciprocate God’s love if we were confronted with His awesome glory at every turn? Yahweh’s whole point in creation had been to give us mortals the opportunity to form a loving relationship with Him. But love is impossible without free will. If “the whole earth is filled with the glory of God,” there is no logical way for us to reject Him. So Yahweh was compelled by His own love to cloak His nature, allowing us the opportunity to reach out to Him as He was reaching out to us. As John put it, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own [well, most of us] did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:10-13) When we choose to receive God’s love, we become His beloved offspring, born from above in His Spirit.
The fact is, as fallen humans, we cannot save ourselves from our sinful state. In the earliest writings in the Bible, a man named Job—acknowledged to be one of the most righteous people who ever lived—was taught the nature of this chicken-and-egg conundrum. God spoke to him out of the whirlwind and said, in so many words, “You aren’t God, so saving yourself is not your job, Job. You must rely upon Me for that. If you disagree, “then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty. Disperse the rage of your wrath. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low. Tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together. Bind their faces in hidden darkness. Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you.” (Job 40:10-14) In other words, “Let the whole earth be filled with YOUR glory.”
Faced with such unassailable truth, Job finally “got it,” answering Yahweh, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak. You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6) Job had (like all believers) come to know Yahweh through His reputation, through tradition and testimony, whether oral or written. He knew about God, but of necessity his knowledge was incomplete. There is no shame in that. Job honored Yahweh to the extent of his understanding.
So why is Job seen “abhorring himself, repenting in dust and ashes”? It’s because he had now encountered Yahweh in His glory (well, at least partially), and the comparison had been shocking. He had been thinking of God as a Colleague—greater than he was, of course, but Someone with whom he could plead his case, face to face. He had said, “If only someone would listen to me! Look, I will sign my name to my defense. Let the Almighty answer me. Let my accuser write out the charges against me. I would face the accusation proudly. I would wear it like a crown. For I would tell him exactly what I have done. I would come before Him like a prince.” (Job 31:35-37 NLT) Although Job was arguably the most righteous man of his era, he found he could not stand toe-to-toe with God Almighty and defend himself. You and I, if we’re honest with ourselves, couldn’t even stand before Job “like a prince.” Our sins are far too obvious, far too blatant, for us to fall into the same trap he did, wondering what evil he had done to earn such suffering. All we can do, from day one, is to “repent in dust and ashes” before God.
My point in all of that is that, as Job himself noted, our Redeemer lives. We cannot save ourselves, but the blood of Christ can. We have but to ask. The prayers of the Psalmists are about to be answered, in unmistakably literal terms. “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” (Psalm 72:18-19) “Bless Yahweh, O my soul! O Yahweh my God, You are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.” (Psalm 104:1-2) We will soon see Him as He is, garbed in glory, honor, majesty, power, and light.
And every knee will bow before Him.