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The Lamb is the Hinge

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Archives / 1978 / May

 

 

The Lamb is the Hinge

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as a professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

 

 

What a puzzling book the Old Testament is when viewed apart from the New Testament! Its drama of prophets, priests, and kings; its ritual of tabernacle and temple; its prophecies of the worldwide proclamation of God's truth all sound that echoing note of anticipation that only Calvary and Pentecost could validate. Replete with anticipation of an era of fulfillment to be ushered in by One greater than Moses, the Old Testament stands like a half-hinge until the succeeding Testament is added.

This phenomenon of the incompleteness of the Old Testament rev elation is specially marked in the strange passion play Israel continually reenacted in the desert of pilgrimage and later in Canaan. What means the continual shedding of blood, the perpetual intercession of priests, that characterized Israel's worship? It hardly seems enough to say that all nations believed in sacrifice. Why did they? Did they link sin and death with primeval promises regarding the coming Lamb of God? Was it this awareness that led to the mingling of light and shadow even in pagan worship?

One thing is certain. The New Testament recurringly draws upon the symbolism of the Old Testament tabernacle to explain the plan of redemption. The tabernacle is set forth as a figure of (1) Christ Himself (John 1:14) (2) His body, the church (1 Cor. 3:16, 17); (3) each believer (chap. 6:19); (4) the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1, 2). And because history is indeed "His story," the prophetic visions that revolved around the sanctuary are applied to the experience of the Christian church, especially in eschatological time. 1 Schrenk, in his article on the Temple (Knittel), tells us that the sanctuary prophecy of Daniel 8:11-14 is the seed of all later apocalyptic formulation. R. H. Hiers2 and others agree. These "apocalyptic formulations" include the kingdom teachings of Christ, Paul, and John the revelator.

According to Lagrange, Frost, Feuillet, et cetera, the sanctuary referred to so often in Daniel is a "symbole du regne de Dieu." Numerous writers in recent years have written much on the theme of "the new temple" of the Christian community prefigured by the ancient Jewish temple, and some have seen in such passages as Daniel 8:14 a prophecy of the eschaton.3

More important than the testimony of all the scholars combined is the fact that our Lord selected an Old Testament prophecy about the sanctuary (Dan. 8:11-14, as elaborated in later Daniel passages) and commanded His last-day church to understand it (see Matt. 24:15; Mark 13, 14). No other passage from the Old Testament was ever singled out by Him in this way. Scholar J. Jeremias comments on our Lord's words:

''The abomination of desolation in the holy place, demanding worship and reverence, glorified by false prophets through word and miracle—that is the last great temptation." 4

And one of earlier times, Bishop C. Wordsworth, suggested that the ancient prophecy of Daniel regarding the desolation of the sanctuary would find its fulfillment eschatologically: "Some form of infidelity and impiety will be established by Law even in the Christian church. . . . The Church itself will be betrayed by some in high places in her ministry, and by means of their timid and treacherous concession and compromises it will be polluted by a form of worship which will make it execrable." 5

Thus the Old Testament tabernacle and the temple as applied by the New Testament have tremendous doctrinal and prophetic significance. When we consider the space be stowed upon the Jewish sacrificial ritual this importance might be anticipated. While the story of Creation is summarized in one chapter of eight hundred words, and the history of generations is covered in just five chapters (the whole period from Creation to the Flood), the Old Testament devotes half of one book (Exodus), all of another (Leviticus), and a considerable section of a third book (Numbers) to the sanctuary. Its story, however, does not stop there but continues throughout the early and later prophets. The Pentateuch traces development of the typical ritual from its simple outline of priest, altar, and sacrifice in Genesis to its elaborate ceremonies in the succeeding books. Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah revolve around the building of Solomon's Temple, its destruction and restoration. The major prophets have much to say of the desecration of both the heavenly and earthly sanctuaries by Satan and his representatives (see Eze. 28; Dan. 8-12).

It is indeed true to say, "The Sanctuary is a dramatized parable of God's dealings with man. It is a pictured history, the Gospel in sub stance, Salvation in epitome. It is a figure, but more than a form. It is a shadow, but not darkness; rather, it is a reflection of the light of heaven. To study it is to think God's thoughts after him. To understand its every detail is to fathom the depths of the richness of his wisdom." 6

Books abound that curiously homileticize almost every socket and ring of the tabernacle. In this series I wish to avoid missing the wood for the trees, and will discuss only centralities that lie at the heart of revealed religion and constitute the foundation of the Christian faith.

What were the focal features of the ancient tabernacle system? The tabernacle by its very structure clearly indicates what was central in the divine plan. If we divide the court at the center by a line connecting the two longitudinal walls of the court, we will discover that exactly in the middle of the first half of the sacred enclosure stood the altar; and exactly at the same sector of the second half was the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat, cherubim, and Shekinah glory. The altar of sacrifice with its continual shedding and sprinkling of blood, and the ark of judgment overshadowed by holy angels and God Himself, are thus indicated as primary for our attention.

At the very beginning of the description of the building of the tabernacle, the ark of the law is referred to (see Eze. 25:10). The whole system was called into existence be cause men had violated that infinite law which is a transcript of the divine character of holy love (Rom. 7:12, 14). Our Lord declared that it was easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a jot or tittle of the law to fail. Though He had the entire Old Testament in His view, the context of His statement shows He was thinking particularly of the precepts His own voice had spoken from Sinai. The cross was Heaven's provision to meet the tragedy of sin, and sin is whatever in nature, disposition, or act is contrary to the nature, will, and law of our Creator. (See Matt. 5:17-19; 1 John 3:4; Ps. 40:7, 8; 51:51; James 2:8-12.)

While the law is perfect for the needs of perfect people, it can on its own bring only condemnation and despair to sinners. None can approach the judgment unless they have accepted the blood of Christ. The high priest approaching the ark always came by the altar of sacrifice. The law can neither empower nor forgive its violator, but the gospel does both. Calvary reveals sin to be the most expensive thing in the universe, whether pardoned or unforgiven. If pardoned, its cost falls on the atoning sacrifice; if unforgiven, it must take the life of the impenitent and all hope of eternity.

The very breadth of the entrance to the courtyard echoed the gospel invitation "Whosoever will, may come." He who responded and approached the altar found himself surrounded on every side by the glistening white of the courtyard walls, for he was now accepted as "complete in Christ," being "made the righteousness of God in him" (Col. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These themes of the law and the gospel were at the heart of the typology of the sacrificial system. In coming issues we will consider them, as well as the eschatological climax of the Judgment (also typified in the sanctuary service) when "the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35) according to their response to the proffered grace of God. To scale the mountain peaks of the tabernacle's teaching is to ascend into the very heights of heaven, and to find that rich nourishment which alone can make possible "the days of heaven upon earth" as we "possess our possessions," namely "all spiritual blessings ... in Christ" (Deut. 11:21; Obadiah 17; Eph. 1:3).

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Notes:

1 See Dan. 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; 11:31; 12:11; cf. Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14; 2 Thess. 2:3, 4; Rev. 11:1, 2.

2 R. H. Hiers, "Purification of the Temple," J.B.L., XC (1971), pp. 82-90.

3 M. J. Lagrange, Le Judaisme avant Jesus-Christ (Paris, 1931), p. 69; S. B. Frost, Old Testament Apocalyptic (London, 1952), p. 199; A. Feuillet, "Let Fils de I'homme de Daniel et la tradition biblique," R. B., LX (1953), pp. 197, 198; B. Gartner, The Temple and the Community in Qumran and the New Testament (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 129, 130; L. Gaston, No Stone on Another (Leiden, 1970), p. 449; Y. M. Congar, The Mystery of the Temple (London, 1962), passim; R. A. Cole, The New Temple (London, 1950), passim.

4 J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology (SCM London, 1971), vol. 1, p. 128.

5 Bishop C. Wordsworth, Commentary on Holy Scripture, vol. 6, p. 62.

6 Robert B. Thurber, Bible Truth Series, no. 38.

 

No Other Key

"I will give the Old Testament to any wise man living and say, Go home and construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that which is herein foreshadowed. Remember he must be a prophet like unto Moses, and yet a champion, like unto Joshua; he must be an Aaron, and a Melchisadec; he must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph. Nay, he must not only be the lamb that was slain but the
turtle dove and the priest who  slew the bird, but he must as well be the altar, tabernacle, mercy seat and shewbread. To puzzle this wise man further, we remind him of prophecies so apparently contradictory that one would think they could never meet in one man, such as these: 'All men shall fall down before him,' and 'He is despised,' etc. He must begin by showing a man born of a virgin mother; he must be a man without spot or blemish, but one upon whom the Lord doth lay the iniquities of us all. He must be a glorious One, a Son of David, yet a root out of dry ground. Now if the greatest intellects could set themselves to invent another key to the types and prophecies they could not do it. These wonderful hieroglyphics must be left unexplained till one comes forward and proclaims, 'The Cross of Christ and the Son of God incarnate.' Then the whole is clear, so that he who runs may read, and a child may understand." —C. H. Spurgeon, The Biblical Illustrator, John, vol. 3, p. 336.

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