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 is 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.
More to come. . .