The Heavenly Holy of Holies

The temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem was not just as a place of worship and sacrifice, but also an image, or a model, of the cost of sin and of redemption.  The many courts, chambers, and walls were an object lesson in man’s separation from God because of his sin, and the required cost of restoring that relationship.  The most interior part of the temple, and hardest to get to, was the Holy of Holies, a room shaped like a perfect cube: 20 cubits by 20 cubits by 20 cubits.[1]  This cubed space was so sacred, and so holy, that only the high priest could enter it, and only once per year, and only after elaborate sacrifice.

However, by Christ’s sacrifice, we have hope: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” (Hebrews 6:19-20a).  In Mark’s gospel, we learn that when Christ died on the cross, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”[2]  This curtain was the barrier covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies, and with Jesus’ death, entrance isn’t limited to just the high priest, but open to all who would believe in Him.  He entered “on our behalf” and anchors us to this most holy destination.

The Bible was not finished drawing this picture, though.  In Revelation 21, a new city – a new Jerusalem – is seen by the apostle John in a vision, coming down from heaven, and verse 16 says: “The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.”  This vision was not meant to tell us that in Paradise we will all live inside a big cube.  As pastor Glenn Parkinson wrote: “Certainly all physical beings must exist somewhere, but this is not a vision of where God’s people will live, but how they will live when the former things have passed away.”[3]

Don’t put Earth in a box. Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Earlier, Revelation 21:1 referred to a whole new heaven and earth, so the new Jerusalem probably represents something about life everywhere in this new creation, and in this image, God would have used things familiar to John, the author of Revelation, otherwise the visions wouldn’t make sense.  The only other architectural cube John would probably recall from Scripture would be the Holy of Holies, but what does that mean?

I believe it means that all of the new heaven and earth will be inhabitable by both God and His people.  All of Paradise will be holier than even the Holy of Holies, but because the church will be fully sanctified, God’s people can enter His presence without the many temple courts and chambers and walls symbolizing man’s separation from God.  Relationship between Creator and created will be fully restored.  Everywhere will be holy, and everyone will be holy.

No, the New Jerusalem isn’t literally a cube, but it symbolizes that in the new world, the temple is not even needed, because all is as it should be between God and man:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” – Revelation 21:22

Praise God Almighty and the Lamb!

[1] 1 Kings 6:20 (a cubit was roughly 18 inches)
[2] Mark 15:38
[3] Parkinson, Glenn.  Tapestry: The Book of Revelation (2015).

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Chapter 14 of John’s gospel begins with Jesus saying to His closest disciples “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  Near the end of the chapter, Jesus says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  In between, He gives His followers many words of encouragement because they needed it.  Why?

Leading up to this, Jesus had just told them “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me,[1] predicting Judas would soon turn Him over to be killed.  Since He knew He would be raised again and ascend to heaven, He had to tell them: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”[2]  Then, in front of all the others, He told Peter, who had just offered to die for Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.[3]

In quick succession, this small group of 12 disciples were told that 2 of them would soon be unfaithful, and that their leader would soon be leaving them.  They must have felt devastated and troubled in their hearts.  Had they given up so much for Jesus, only for it to fall apart?  Likewise, when we’re bombarded with bad news in quick succession, our heart may tell us to be troubled, but “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Instead of listening to our gut feeling or our instincts, the only one in whom there is no deceit – Jesus – says to trust Him.  He says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

If you’re troubled with something today, bring it to Him and ask Him for His peace.  It can overcome anything.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I took this from a beach in Florida.

[1] John 13:21
[2] John 13:33
[3] John 13:38b

He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 1)

Sometimes you watch a movie and years later only remember one or two things about it, and the rest is just “meh”.  In Undercover Blues, released in 1993, Stanley Tucci’s character Muerte, a mugger, is the best part of the movie.  He growls lines like: “My name is Muerte…it means death!  Remember my name!” before or after attacking his victims, with Mariachi guitar accompaniment.  It’s a bit silly, but Muerte isn’t to be trifled with – he brutally takes out multiple guys in the movie.

Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner play a married couple of ex-spies (their last name is Blue) on maternity leave in New Orleans who are harassed by muggers, including Muerte, along the way.  Unfortunately for Muerte, Jeff Blue is an experienced and confident fighter who isn’t intimidated by Muerte’s speech, and just says: “Well I’m pleased to meet you Morty.  My name is Jeff”

Then Jeff Blue beats up Morty and his crew with a stroller!  Evil Muerte had met his match.  Watch the one-minute video below – I’ll be referring back to it later.

A Conspiracy of Muertes
While Muerte picks up his lost tooth, here are key verses for this post, from Psalm 2:1-3:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
            against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds apart
            and cast away their cords from us”

The Psalm refers to the rebellion of nations, peoples, kings, and rulers against the “bonds” and “cords” of “the Lord” and “his Anointed”, or God the Father and God the Son.  Nations are rivals, not just with each other, but also with the kingdom of God.

The ultimate example of this rebellion is referenced when the first two verses from above are quoted in Acts 4:25-26, followed by: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  The crucifixion of Jesus was the result of a massive conspiracy, including possibly six separate trials by both Jewish and Roman authorities, resulting in the death of Jesus, who was not guilty of what He was charged with, but also is the only human to never participate in insurrection against His Father.  The Jews hated Him because He was not the political messiah that would lead an insurrection against Rome.  The Romans, led by Pilate, answered the call to crucify Him, to avoid a Jewish riot that would result in their punishment or removal by higher Roman authorities.  Jesus was a threat to their authority and had to go.

So, they literally succeeded in killing God.  Brutally.  But then Psalm 2:4 tells us:

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.”

A Surprising Victory
Surprising even His followers, on the third day, He was resurrected from the dead, and after a few weeks, was raised “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  (Ephesians 1:21).  This Jesus is the one laughing in heaven, and He can laugh because in a way He is like Jeff Blue in the scene from Undercover Blues.  At the 27 second mark of the video, after Muerte draws his switchblade, Jeff smiles and says “This is a really bad idea Morty.”  Muerte rages and plots in vain, however is no threat to Jeff.  Likewise, Jesus knows all nations are no threat to Him and His kingdom.

In “More Than Truth”, I wrote about how some truth “describes the world as it is”, such as Proverbs 14:20: “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”  Jesus knows all of the descriptive truth about the problems of the world, including subjects of earlier posts:

  • That since the Fall in Genesis 3, “mankind became inclined to make things that glorify themselves, rather than God,” from the tower of Babel to kingdoms such as Edom
  • That “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” – Pr. 14:12 and 16:25
  • That every “Pax Romana” is just a narrative designed to make the state appear to be more than it is
  • That mankind is incredibly creative in attempting to thwart God’s purpose in creating His kingdom, populated by His family
  • That even the “religion” of the Old Testament Bible could not produce righteousness

However, all rulers and nations opposed to God are doomed to fail, because even killing God was not good enough to keep Him down.  Jesus laughs because He knows His plan will work.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told Peter that “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In Acts 4 above, Peter and John quote Psalm 2 after they were released by the religious rulers of Jerusalem, and they testify that Jesus’ enemies only do “whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  Peter and John were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and knew that all the powers of the world could not keep Him down.  His plan would not fail.  They did not quote verse 4, but they knew that Jesus was exalted and laughing at the opposition to them.  They rejoiced that the same God who had resurrected Jesus had freed them from prison!

Therefore, take comfort that Jesus, knowing all the evil and rebellion of the world that we may feel threatened by or anxious about, laughs.  All who challenge God are Morty, not Muerte, even if they once “succeeded” in killing Him.

I read Psalm 2 if I am feeling stressed by the political state of the world, about the political state of my country, or about the 24/7 barrage of bad news online and on TV.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs” reminds me that Jesus is laughing at the cause of my stress – He is not threatened and He is in charge.  In some ways we are like the baby in the movie scene.  We would be helpless against Muerte, but Jeff Blue does not let anything happen to his child.  At the 34 second mark of the video, Jeff even checks in on the baby, who slept through the whole thing.  In our case, we are tethered to our forerunner[1], Jesus, our King laughing in heaven, who says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” – John 10:28-29.

I’ll end this post here on a note of confidence, but there remains a trickier and important question…

Do we also laugh?  Is the laughter of Jesus descriptive, or prescriptive?  What is the truth that is like Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”?

What defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave? More in Part 2, coming soon.

[1] See “The Sure Eternal Path” for more on this metaphor from Hebrews 6:20.

[Originally posted October 2021]

The Transfiguration: A Preview of Glory and Delight

Last week I posted about Psalm 36:8, where David thanks God that His people may “drink from the river of your delights.”   Since the word for “delights” is the plural of Eden, these occasional sips God provides us point to a past and future paradise.  These delights strengthen our hope of heaven and strengthen us to live in this world for Him.  Jesus provided such a moment for His disciples in the event known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus took His disciples Peter, James, and John up a mountain for a vision of His future glory.  Matthew records in his gospel that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”[1]

Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus, perhaps representing the law and the prophets of the Old Testament and how it all pointed to Jesus.  Peter wanted to make this moment last, and offered to “make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.[2]  But it was not intended to last long, yet.

The Transfiguration was a preview of heaven, a sneak peek into what eternity will be like, a promise of future blessing under Jesus, the glorified King.  The fulfillment of everything the law and prophets hinted at will be realized.  However, Moses and Elijah soon disappeared, Jesus and His disciples descended from the mountain, and the disciples very soon struggled as we all do, but they persevered as we also must. Pray that God will make eternity real to His people today, even if for only a moment, giving a “drink from the river of your delights” and strengthen us to live for Him.

[1] Matthew 17:2
[2] Matthew 17:4