The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (8A)

Many people are interested in prophecy. They want to know their own future and the future of the whole world, so they go to fortune tellers, psychics, card readers, etc. But the Bible forbids us to go to such people.

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. (Lev 19:26)

“Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:31)

And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Is 8:119)

 

Consulting psychics, astrologers, etc. shows a lack of trust in God. Our fate, so to speak, is in the hands of a loving God. This is all we need to know.

One perennial curiosity is who or what is the Antichrist. This figure appears in many parts of the New Testament. His coming heralds the end times in which Christ will come again, destroy the Antichrist and establish His kingdom. Throughout Christian history people looked at the Bible to find out when the second coming will be. Even the Apostles wanted to know this. But we see how Christ responds to the question about the end of the world.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:6-7)

Christ then ascends into heaven. But Christ’s answer has never satisfied people’s curiosity about the end and so many people have used the Bible, especially the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, to identify the Antichrist and determine when Christ will come again.

Throughout Christian history many evil rulers have been called the Antichrist: Emperor Nero, Emperor Diocletian, Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Hitler, Stalin and many others. But Christ’s response to the Apostles question shows us that we will never know the date of the Second Coming. To show how foolish this kind of curiosity is the writer of this article refers to a book he was shown as a seminarian. It was an old book printed early in the nineteenth century “proving” that Napoleon was the Antichrist and the Second Coming was imminent. The author of this book searched the Bible for verses which seem to refer to Napoleon. For us, this may seem silly. We know that Napoleon was not the Antichrist. The point here is that the Bible is not a fortune telling book. But none of this is prophecy in the Biblical sense.

Of course, the Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah. Some of the prophecies were uncannily close to what actually occurred. For example the book of Isaiah  has some hymns or songs about the Suffering Servant. Jews would not think that these verses about suffering could be applied to the Messiah. For them a suffering Messiah is a contradiction in terms. For them the Messiah was a victorious king so to speak. Some Jews think that these words apply to the state of Israel. In other words, the suffering servant texts refer to the Jewish people, over the centuries. Out of this suffering came the nation of Israel.. But we see how these words apply to Jesus Christ.

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 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; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

This is just an example. In the Book of Isaiah there are many other servant songs which we, as Christians, understand as applying to Jesus.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (7)

As we have seen earlier, sacrifice is an important aspect of religion. Throughout the history of humanity sacrifice is found in many religions, in many places in the world. Sacrifice comes naturally to human beings to the point that live human sacrifice was practiced. The idea is that we offer something valuable to God. In the Old Testament and in the beginning of the New Testament, parents had to offer a sacrifice for their first born son. Because Mary and Joseph were poor, they could only afford to offer two turtledoves rather than sheep or goats.

“And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”(Luke 2:21-23)

We may want to say that we are sorry to God or to ask God to heal our illnesses or to protect our country from attack or many other reasons.

All of this is true. When we read the Old Testament, we see precise details about how to perform sacrifice for different reasons and so on. The Old Testament sacrifice was ordered by God, but the sacrifice of sheep or goats could only have a limited efficacy. Something more was needed and that something was Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, especially in the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us the many different ways Christ is the true sacrifice. Here are some quotes.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:11-14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9:24-28)

Christ is the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice. Christ is the offering and the offered. As the priest prays in the Divine Liturgy “Thou (i.e., Christ) didst become man, yet without change or alteration and as Ruler of All didst commit to us this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice. … For Thou art the offering and the offered, the Receiver and the Received.”

The idea here is that Jesus Christ is acting through our offering of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christ offers, Christ receives. So we see that Jesus Christ is the one perfect sacrifice fulfilling all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and indeed, of all sacrifices no matter wherever they are found. Sins are forgiven, and humanity attains union with God.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (6c)

As noted earlier the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Now, Christians themselves are the Temple.

‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:13-22)

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are..” (I Cor 3:16-17)

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (I Pet 2:4-6)

The point of all of this is clear. The Temple in Jerusalem was the presence of God on earth. For Jews, there was nothing as holy as this. So, when Jesus identifies His body with the Temple and claims authority over it, He is telling us that He Himself is that locus of Holiness, both in this world and the next. And we ourselves as baptized Christians are ourselves become temples of the Lord. We may fail to live up to this standard, but we do indeed partake of God’s holiness. And, of course, there will be no temple in heaven. The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible describes heaven in this way:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; … And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day — and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21: 1-3, 22-27)

It seems that the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Temple when the Babylonians sacked the Temple in 585 BC. It’s location now is a matter of conjecture.

Some Jewish sources suggest that the Ark was hidden in caves beneath the Temple when the Babylonians were attacking the Temple. On the other hand, there is a strong, ancient tradition in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that they possess the Ark of the Covenant. Other sources suggest it was in Rome or someplace else in Europe. Even now people search for the Ark. But this is difficult. Because of the political situation in Jerusalem, excavation beneath the Temple Mount is restricted. Also, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church while claiming that it has the Ark refuses to show it to the world. As far as Rome goes, Rome itself was sacked by the barbarians, so what happened to the Ark after this?

The Ark also occurs in secular culture. We may remember the 1980 movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The search for the Ark is the theme of this movie. In general, we see many instances in popular culture from movies, books, video games, etc. But we should never forget that the Ark is a holy Jewish and Christian relic. It does not have magical powers but is a reminder of God’s covenant and presence with humanity.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (6b)

Although God is everywhere present, his presence was felt to be specially present in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was contained in the Holy of Holies, into which only the High Priest could enter. An example of this presence of God is described by the Prophet Isaiah.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Is 6:1-4)

So, as we have seen, the Temple was the presence of God on earth. There was no holier place than this for the Jewish people. This sense of God’s presence is seen in the description of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple,

“Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. (I Kings 8:6)

“And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. (I Kings 9:3)

But as crucial as the Temple was even in the Old Testament promised in the future, the glory of God would fill all creation, and that God would be present in His people as He was in the Holy of Holies. It was said that sacrifice would cease. Therefore, Jesus Christ’s attitude towards the Temple is a key to the understanding of how Jesus understood Himself and His mission.

For example, Jesus at one time claims to be greater than the Temple.

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Mt 12:1-6)

Or we think of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple. For example,

“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (Jn 2:13-21)

Here Christ asserts His authority over the Temple In this section Christ identifies His body with the Temple.

Sometimes critics of Christianity say that Jesus Christ never claimed to be God. And nit is true Jesus did not do this often. But there is a reason for this. If Jesus had gone around claiming to be God people would have mocked him and said he is crazy, or they would have killed him much earlier than they did. However, he did make these claims to be God in subtle ways. So, what Jesus said about the Temple is one way of making these claims to be divine. For Christ to say that he is greater that the table or that he had the authority to cleanse the Temple is one of Christ’s away to say he is God.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (6A)

One of the main themes of the Old Testament and the New Testament is that of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Before we look at the Jerusalem Temple as it existed in the time of Jesus, we have to look at its predecessor, the Tabernacle in the desert. At one time in the Old Testament God ordered Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant, which was a gold-covered wooden box with a lid and a cover. (If we know about the movie from the 1980s, this is the ark in the title “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) This ark, or box contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, a golden jar holding manna and Aaron’s Rod, which budded.

“…. having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.” (Heb 9:4)

This ark was carried by the Hebrews as they travelled in the desert. It was a truly holy object, in which God’s presence was strongly felt. Because it was so holy when the Hebrews camped it was put into a special, richly-decorated tent called a Tabernacle. The description of the Tabernacle is found in Exodus chapters 25-30.

The Tabernacle in the desert was a large, rectanglar tent which was erected whenever the Hebrews settled down in a camp. It had three sections. The first section was where people first entered. The second was called the Holy Place. The altar of incense was there. Finally there was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was located. As the name implies this was the most sacred place in the Tabernacle. It is described in Exodus.

“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cherubim; and you shall hang it upon four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, upon four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony in thither within the veil; and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table; and you shall put the table on the north side. “And you shall make a screen for the door of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them. You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad; the altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.” (Ex 26:31-27:2)

Eventually, after the Hebrews had entered the Promised Land and became a settled kingdom, the Temple in Jerusalem was constructed by King Solomon. This temple was attacked and damaged several times by the enemies of the Hebrews, and finally was completely destroyed by the Babylonians in 585 BC when Jerusalem was attacked and the Jewish people were taken into captivity in Babylon.

The Second Temple was built between 538-515. This Temple was renovated and expanded by King Herod the Great in 20 BC. This is the Temple that existed in the time of Jesus. This Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans and followed the same pattern as the Tabernacle, but in a much more elaborate way. The layout was as follows: First came the Courts of the Gentiles or non-Jews. This was the only part of the Temple that non-Jews could enter. As a matter of fact, if a non-Jew went further than this he could be put to death. To see how seriously this was taken we can take an example from the Book of Acts. St. Paul was in Jerusalem with Trophimus, a gentile (non-Jew) convert to Christianity. The Jews believe that St. Paul brought him into the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles. This is how the Jews reacted:

“When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Troph’imus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (Acts 21:27-32)

In other words, the Jews wanted to kill St. Paul for brining a non-Jew into the Temple. There was such a disturbance that Roman troops were called to calm things down.

Next was the Court of the Women. Then the Court of the Israelites, where any ritually pure Jewish man could enter. After this we have the Court of the priest then the temple court, where the altar of sacrifice was located. Finally, we get to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the holiest place in the Temple. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Tabernacle in the first Temple. But as we have seen it disappeared with the destruction of the first Temple. Only the High Priest cold enter this part of the Temple. He would enter it once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Fr. John