N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.
Rom 2:25-29, Part 3 [JFG]
(Rom. 2:25-29 ESV) 25 For circumcision [the mark of a Jews] indeed is of value if you obey the law [Torah], but if you break the law [Torah], your circumcision becomes uncircumcision [of the heart under Deu 10:16 and 30:6].
26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law [Torah], will not his [physical] uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision [or the heart]? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code [Torah] and circumcision but break the law [Torah].
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [merely knowing Torah rather than obeying Torah]. His praise is not from man but from God.
The Glory of God in Ezekiel [JFG]
We rarely study the major prophets in Bible class. The books are just too long to cover in a 13-week quarter. And no one feels qualified to teach them. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling gap in our knowledge. No one knows this stuff, and so no one teaches it, and so no one knows it.
The best book on Ezekiel is The Message of Ezekiel by Christopher J. H. Wright (no kin to NT). But before you attempt to cover the whole thing, get some software or website that lets you easily do word searches in a single book, and just search “Spirit” or “glory” or “temple” to get a feel for the message and language of the book. Other words and themes will come to mind as you do your word studies. And while you’ll only see bits and pieces of a much larger, masterful work, it’ll help you understand what’s going on.
Ezekiel wrote from Babylon. He prophesied to the first group of Jews taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and relocated to Mesopotamia. He warns against further rebellion but he also looks ahead to the end of Exile.
One of the most poignant elements of Ezekiel is the recurring theme of God’s presence — his Glory — leaving the Temple.
The story begins with a Theophany — the appearance of God himself to Ezekiel —
(Ezek. 1:2-6 ESV) 2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.
4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. 5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, 6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.
In chapter 1, Ezekiel describes the Glory of God in detail — in astonishing language. You really should read it all. In fact, read it out loud or have someone read it to you.
(Ezek. 1:28 ESV) 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Ezekiel is taken in a vision to Jerusalem to see God’s Glory in the Temple —
(Ezek. 8:3-6 ESV) 3 He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley. 5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”
God said he was being driven from the Holy of Holies (the sanctuary) by the sins of the people. The ceremonies of the Temple ritual were practiced part to preserve the purity of the Sanctuary against the stain of the sins of the people. But now Israel’s sins were too much. The Temple was too polluted by the people’s sins for God to continue to dwell there!
Ezekiel then sees God’s Glory leave the mercy seat — where God’s presence dwelt, immediately above the Ark of the Covenant — and go into the Temple courts.
(Ezek. 10:3-4 ESV) 3 Now the cherubim [atop the Ark of the Covenant and encircling the Mercy Seat] were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. 4 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD.
This is a reversal of the entry of God’s Glory into the Holy of Holies when the Temple was dedicated by Solomon.
(Ezek. 10:18-19 ESV) 18 Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
God’s Glory then leaves by way of the east gate. And it seems likely that Jesus was led from the east gate of Jerusalem to be crucified many centuries later.
(Ezek. 11:23-24 ESV) 23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. 24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me.
The Glory then leaves by way of the mountain to the east of Jerusalem — the Mount of Olives.
Now, when God returned to the Temple in the form of Jesus, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, reversing the path of the departure of God’s Glory in Ezekiel — fulfilling the prophecies of Eze 39-44.
(Ezek. 43:2-5 ESV) 2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. 3 And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. 4 As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, 5 the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
Jesus himself returned to the physical Temple. The Spirit was outpoured almost certainly at the Temple at Pentecost — because there was no other place large enough for such a crowd in Jerusalem at the festival.
But the glory of the LORD did not fill the Temple until the Spirit was poured out on the temple of the Holy Spirit — God’s church.
(Eph. 2:21-3:1 NET) 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
(1 Pet. 2:4-5 NET) 4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, 5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
And so you can see why the NT writers associate the Spirit with the Glory (or very presence) of God —
(1 Pet. 4:13-14 NET) 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you.
(2 Cor. 3:17-18 NET) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Now, we don’t have to fathom every mystery contained in these passages to reach some conclusions. For example, the OT plainly tells us that when the Spirit is outpoured, it will not be a one-generation thing. The Spirit will continue to be on God’s people to the end of the age — until Jesus returns.
Just so, we see that the Second Temple period Jews, who had read Ezekiel, considered God’s presence to have left Solomon’s Temple and that God has promised a return as magnificent and powerful and sudden as God’s entry into the Temple when Solomon dedicated it.
(1 Ki. 8:10-11 NET) 10 Once the priests left the holy place, a cloud filled the LORD’s temple. 11 The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the LORD’s glory filled his temple.
This happened at Pentecost — and is the initial outpouring of the Spirit by God on his people — making his people into his temple.
But there’s more … You see, the Spirit inspired the Prophets to tell us quite a bit about the Spirit, and in so doing, they tell us quite a bit about the new covenant made by Jesus.