The Burning Bush: Mary as the Eschatological Face of Creation

bush

Introduction:

One of the deeply fascinating aspects of Orthodoxy theology is how everything is interconnected. Orthodox theology is a grand tapestry where the many threads are all woven together to reveal the glorious image of the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ; or to use the language of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the many jewels which fit together to form the image of the King. The knowledge of the interconnectedness of Orthodox theology is fundamental to understand when approaching of the theological and dogmatic positions of the Church. While the theology of the Church is primarily drawn from the bottomless wells of the Holy Scriptures it is also expressed through the language of the Church Fathers, ecclesiastical hymnography, and iconography; none of which contradict the content of Holy Scripture but rather drawn out theological truths from the Scriptures. This means that some of the theological positions and dogmatic statements of the Church are expressed in ways that are not directly expressed in Holy Scripture but nonetheless are the result of the way the Church reads Holy Scripture. This is the case especially in the way the Church approaches and understands who the Virgin Mary is and what her role is in the economy of salvation and the continuing life of the Church. The Orthodox Church fully affirms her ever-virginity, her intercessory role, and her place as the Mother of God (or Theotokos in Greek). While none of these statements are made directly they are nonetheless necessary conclusions based on the typological and thematic reading of the Holy Scriptures; as taught by the Apostles (as is evident within the writings of the New Testament) and by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (see Lk. 24:27). The case I will be presenting is that according to the typological reading of Scripture, the patristic, hymnographic, and iconographic traditions of the Church we see in Mary an image of the eschatological creation; creation filled with the glory of God responding is praise and thanksgiving. When observing the connections made between Pentecost and the formation of the Church, the eschatological age and the transfiguration of creation, the burning bush, and Mary what becomes clear is that the future eschatological life of the Kingdom of Heaven is implemented in the Church, thus the gift of the Spirit and the formation of the Church constitute the beginning of the eschatological age. Both events of Pentecost and the transfigured cosmos are typified in the burning bush seen by Moses in the book of Exodus. Another typological reading of the burning bush is seeing it as an image and anticipation of the indwelling of the Word of God within the womb of Mary. Orthodox tradition has already seen in the expectant Mary an image of the Church bearing Christ and when we connect the eschatological dimensions of the burning bush and Pentecost with Mary we see in the face of Mary a personal image of the new creation.

Pentecost and the Eschaton:

The foundational event for the book of Acts is indisputably the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus at the feast of Pentecost. Acts 2 gives describes for us how the Holy Spirit descends upon the company of the disciples in the form of tongues of fire, the initial preaching of the Apostles in a multitude of tongues, the reaction of the crowds, and Peter’s first sermon. From the very first words of Peter it becomes clear that he understands the preceding event of the outpoured Spirit as a sign that the eschatological age has begun by quoting the prophet Joel, “and in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is the fundamental event of the implementation of Christ’s Kingdom following His ascension. While the Kingdom comes in the Person of Jesus Christ it’s extension to the rest of creation begins at Pentecost. The work of the Spirit in Pentecost takes the company of Jesus’ disciples and forms them into a new community, identified throughout the New Testament as the body of Christ. The Spirit formed community of the Church made up of people from all the nations and all cultural groups anticipates the future coming of Christ in glory when the Spirit of God will raise the dead and transform the faithful members of the Church, and all the natural elements of creation, into the glorious likeness of Christ, as Fr. Sergius Bulgakov wrote, “Pentecost’s fiery tongues become the flame of the world fire, not consuming but transmuting the world. This figure represents a hieroglyph of the cosmic Pentecost.”[i][ii] Pentecost constitutes the incorporation of the disciples of Jesus into the eschatological age which looks forward to its consummation and completion at the second coming of Christ when the event of Pentecost will be universalized.

Pentecost and the Burning Bush:

The Church is the seed of the new creation in the midst of the old creation by virtue of the indwelling Spirit, through Whom the Light of the age to come is manifest throughout the world. The image of the tongues of fire resting upon the heads of the disciples draws a connection to the burning bush seen by Moses in the book of Exodus. In the Gospel of John, within Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, Jesus describes Himself as the true vine and His disciples as branches shooting out from the vine (Jn. 15:5). The image of Pentecost is therefore an image of the fiery indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the branches of the Church; and image which echoes the burning bush. The burning bush, being filled with fire and yet not consumed; out of which the message of deliverance and salvation is announced to Israel, typifies the Pentecostal Church; the fiery branches out of which the deliverance and salvation of Israel and the whole world in Christ is announced. The image of the burning bush is also, according to David Bentley Hart, an “eschatological motif of the redeemed cosmos…: pervaded by the divine glory, but unconsumed—an infinitely realized theophany.”[iii]  The divine fire within the bush anticipates both the indwelling Spirit within the Church and the pervading glory of Christ within the entire cosmos in the age to come.

Mary and the Burning Bush:

Another dimension of the Orthodox Church’s typological understanding of the burning bush is seeing in it an anticipation of Mary bearing within her womb the Word of God. This is demonstrated most clearly in the iconographic depiction of the burning bush which features the image of the “Theotokos of the Sign” within the burning bush. This iconographic interpretation of the text is rooted within patristic Mariology, as testified by St. Gregory of Nyssa, “This also symbolizes [the burning bush] the mystery of the Virgin, from whom came the divine light that shone upon the world without damaging the bush from which it emanated or allowing the virgin shoot to wither.”[iv] The Church herself likewise testifies to the typological connection between the burning bush and Mary in her hymnography. The Kontakion for the feast of the icon of the “Theotokos the Unburnt Bush” reads, “You showed Moses, O Christ God, an image of your most pure Mother in the bush that burned yet was not consumed, for she herself was not consumed, when she received in her womb the fire of divinity! She remained incorrupt after her pure childbearing! By her prayers, O greatly merciful One, deliver us from the flame of passions, and preserve your people from all harm!”[v] The hymnography recognizes a correlation between the bush that held that divine flame and the womb of Mary that held the fire of divinity; since as the book of Hebrews declares, “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

Mary the Image of the Church:

What emerges is an intimate connection between the Pentecostal Church, the Eschatological Creation, and the person of Mary through their anti-typical relationship with the burning bush. Moving forward we come to the conclusion that the Word bearing Mary is an anticipation and image of the Spirit bearing Church at Pentecost. Just as the Spirit overshadows Mary, taking her flesh and blood and forming the body of Christ within her womb, so at Pentecost the Spirit descends upon, or to use Mariological language “overshadows”, the Church, taking the flesh and blood of the disciples and forming them into the ecclesial body of Christ. This indication of Mary as a personification of the Church has been recognized by the Orthodox Church, as Vladimir Lossky wrote, “if we consider St. Paul’s image of the union of Christ and His Church – the image of the union of the bride and the bridegroom – it would appear that Christ is the head of His body, head of the Church, in the same sense in which the husband is the head of the single, unique body of the man and the woman in marriage (Eph. 5:31). In this mysterious union…the one body, the nature common to two persons, receives the hypostasis of the Bridegroom: the Church is ‘the Church of Christ’. But it does not cease to be the other person in this union, subjected to the Bridegroom, distinct from His as bride…the question must need arise – who is this other person, this person of the Church, distinct from the person of her Head? Who is the bride in this union ‘in one flesh’? What is the Church’s own hypostasis?…this person is Mary, the Mother of God…who is herself the first-fruits of the glorified Church.”[vi]

Mary as the Face of the Eschatological Creation:

All of this leads us to the recognition that Mary is herself not only an anti-type of the burning bush, not only the image of the Church, but is herself the personification of the eschatological creation. At the end of our present age the Lord of Glory will enter into His creation, just as He entered secretly into His creation as He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, though what began in secret will conclude in public. The glorified Christ will fill all of creation with His divine glory through the transfiguring operation of the Holy Spirit just as He filled the womb of Mary with His glory through hidden operation of the Spirit. The coming of the glorified Christ completes the union of heaven and earth into a new creation just as the womb of the Virgin became the place where heaven and earth first reunited and became, as the Orthodox hymn sings, a “spiritual paradise” and “more spacious than the heavens.”[vii] The womb of Mary thus became the embryo of the glorified creation, anticipating the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the formation of the body of Christ, the Church, within the upper room which looks forward until the glorious return of Christ where the inner life of the Church, the life of the glorified Christ in the Spirit, will embrace and transfigure all of creation, filling it all with the eternal glory of Christ. The eschatological age is in one sense the “Churchification” of creation, since the life of the Church in the Spirit experienced now in part will become universalized, and in another very real sense the “Mariolization” of the whole creation, where the life of the Virgin – being the receptacle and bearer of Christ – will become the cosmic experience.

[i]

[ii] Quoted by Fr. Aiden Kimel in https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/parousia-and-the-glorification-of-the-cosmos/

[iii] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/06/romans-81922

[iv] https://enlargingtheheart.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/gregory-of-nyssa-moses-and-the-burning-bush/

[v] https://orthodoxwiki.org/Theotokos_the_Unburnt_Bush_icon

[vi] Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1997, p. 192-195.

[vii] https://churchmotherofgod.org/text-of-prayers-of-the-church/53-hymn-to-the-theotokos.html

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Confession, Priesthood, and the New Temple in Biblical Perspective.

confess

Introduction:

One of the identifying traits of evangelical Christianity is it’s insistence that individuals need only to confess their sins to God, not before any man. While some of the Reformers retained the practice of confession (though in a greatly limited practice) it’s been purged out of most modern Protestant communities, especially those which have come under the influence of evangelicalism, due to it’s perception as an unbiblical practice. A closer reading of Scripture, done in a more holistic fashion, actually presents confession as a biblical practice with it’s roots in the liturgical life of Israel under the Old Covenant. Under the Old Covenant a verbal confession was made by an Israelite making a trespass offering in the presence of the priest, who would then take the offering and make atonement for the Israelite. This practice continues into the New Covenant since the pages of the New Testament present the Church as a New Temple and the ordained ministers as priests of the New Temple. The New Testament texts which speak about confessing sins therefore need to be read in light of the Old Testament background of confession and within the context of the Church as New Temple and her ministers as the New Priesthood. In light of this the New Testament practice of confessing sins is presented as the members of the Church coming to confess their sins in the presence of the ordained ministers who have been given to authority to pronounce the forgiveness of sins.

Confession in the Leviticus 5:

Throughout the Old Testament there are multiple examples of people giving verbal confessions of their sins (perhaps most famous in the confession King David makes to Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12:13). The examples in the Old Testament highlight the fact that confession in Israel was verbal and took place either in front of a single person or the community (David’s confession before Nathan is an example of a private confession in the presence of a single person while in Ezra 10 Shekaniah confesses in the presence of Ezra and a large crowd of Israelites). The central texts in the Old Testament that deal with confession, however, are intimately connected to Israel’s liturgical and sacrificial order. The primary text that places confession within the context of Israel’s liturgical/sacrificial order is Leviticus 5:5-6, “When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” The context of these verses is the levitical prescriptions for trespass offerings. After the Israelite commits a sin that warrants a trespass offering, and they come to a realization of their sin, they are to confess their sin and bring an appropriate offering to the priest. While the text doesn’t explicitly mention that the offending Israelite is to confess in the presence of the priest it can be assumed since the Old Testament emphasis on confession is on verbal confessions. This levitical mandate to confess the specific sin committed, bound up with the trespass offerings, means that an offending Israelite would be required to confess her or her sin, whenever the sin committed requires a trespass offering. Since the liturgical practice of confession within the life of Israel was intimately connected to the Temple we should understand the New Testament commands regarding confession to be read in light of their Old Testament background. If we can see that in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ that there’s a New Temple and a New priesthood than in order to have a consistent biblical theology the New Covenant practice of confession must necessarily be placed within this context.

The Church as the New Temple:

One of the major features of the New Covenant is that the incarnate body of Jesus is the New Temple. In fact this is a major theme throughout the entirety of the Gospel of John. In the prologue to the Gospel of John when it says that, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (Jn. 1:14) the Greek word for “dwelt” is literally translated as either “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent”. Just as the Glory of God dwelt within the tabernacle so the incarnate Word is the embodiment of the tabernacle, as the theme of glory immediately follows, “we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). The Evangelist John also directly identifies Jesus’ body as a temple in John 2 after Jesus challenges his critics, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19). John adds an explanatory note saying, “but He spoke of the temple of His body” (Jn. 2:21). The New Testament theology of the Church is that by way of baptism and the gift of the Spirit all believers in Jesus are made members of His body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Since the Spirit of God dwells within individual believers they are themselves individually temples (1 Cor. 6:12-20) as well as each member is a stone that makes up the New Temple of the body of Christ (1 Pt. 4-5). Since Jesus’ body is the temple, and the Church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 1:24), the Church – by virtue of it’s union to the incarnate body of Christ through the Spirit – is the New Temple. The ministers of the Old Covenantal temple were priests and likewise the ministers of the New Covenant in Christ also practice a priestly ministry.

The New Priesthood:

In the New Covenant there is a single priesthood: Christ’s. As the book of Hebrews articulates Jesus was appointed as a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek and by His ascension entered into the heavenly tabernacle with His own blood to offering it as an atoning sacrifice. This follows that His ministerial representatives are participators in, and manifest, His priesthood. The Gospel of Matthew has a number of texts that portray Jesus in a priestly light and then show how he extends these priestly ministries to His disciples. In Matthew 13 when Jesus teaches the crowds through parables the disciples approach Him and ask why He teaches the crowds in parables. Jesus responds to them, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 13:11). One of the priestly functions during the Old Covenant was that of teaching (Lev. 10:8-11). Jesus’ ministry of teaching is fundamentally a part of His priesthood. By giving the secrets of the kingdom to the disciples he extends His priestly duties of teaching to His disciples. Another aspect of the priesthood is the offering of sacrifices. The Last Supper is presented as a memorial grain offering. In Leviticus 2, where we find the prescriptions for grain offerings, the first portion is offered up on the altar as an offering to God while the rest is given to Aaron and his sons for consumption (Lev. 2:1-10). The fact that Jesus takes the first portion during the Last Supper indicates His divine identity while His distribution of the bread to the disciples indicates their priestly identity. This priestly duty of offering the Eucharist is given directly to the disciples in Matthew 14 at the feeding of the five thousand. The event itself anticipates the Last Supper since when Jesus receives the bread and fish it says that He blessed, broke, and gave it to the disciples. The startling fact is that He doesn’t give it to the crowds directly but rather gives it to the disciples so that they can give it to the crowds. This indicates that Jesus is not only handing on His priestly duty of teaching to the disciples but also the priestly duty of offerings. Further texts within Matthew also allude to the priestly ministry of the disciples (such as 12:1-6, 16:16-18, and 19:28-30) so just as the New Testament presents the Church as a New Temple so the ministry of the Apostles is a New Priesthood.

Confession in the New Testament:

The first example of confession that we see in the New Testament occurs within the Gospel accounts of the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew 3 introduces John the Baptist, and his ministry, and recounts how people go out to him to be baptized by him, “then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jorden, confessing their sins” (Mt. 3:5-6). The Old Testament background to the baptism of John is the numerous purifying rites within the book of Leviticus (the book of Hebrews calls these ritual cleansings “baptisms” – see Heb. 9:1-10). Many of the purity laws within the book of Leviticus prescribe a ritual washing when an Israelite became ritually unclean. Many of the laws involved the unclean Israelite to present him/herself to a priest after their time of ritual uncleanliness had expired; either to be inspected by the priest or to bring the appropriate sacrifice for the priest to offer. By baptizing the people of Israel John is performing a priestly duty (he himself came from a priestly line – see Lk. 1:5-24). Since John is a priestly figure, performing a priestly duty, we see that he performs another priestly duty in hearing the confessions of repenting Israelites; just as the priests in the Old Covenant heard the confessions of repenting Israelites as they brought their trespass offerings.

While John’s ministry occurs within the pages of the New Testament his ministry operates near the end of the Old Covenant. Following the resurrection, ascension, enthronement of Christ, and the outpouring of the Spirit we find a few texts in the New Testament. that deal with the practice of confession. The first of these is found in James 5:14-16, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” Here the context of the confession of sins is the anointing of the sick by the elders of the Church. A second text is found in 1 John 1:9, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” A third text is found in John 20:23 when Christ says to His disciples, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus says this to His disciples immediately after He breathes upon them with the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit has many facets to it but one of them, which illuminates this passage, is connected to the ordination of priests. Leviticus 8 describes the ordination ceremony of Aaron and his sons. One of the rituals involved consecrating Aaron for the priesthood by pouring anointing oil on Aaron’s head. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the oil of anointment is directly connected with the Spirit (see 1 Samuel 16:13). The ministry of the priests in the Old Testament was a ministry of cleansing and forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial offerings on behalf of Israel. The connection then between the gift of the Spirit to the disciples and their authority to forgive sins is an indication that they are being ordained by Spirit to operate as priests of His New Covenant. With this in sight the texts of James and 1 John indicate that the confession of sins is made to the ordained ministers of the Church, who function as priests of the New Covenant. The apostolic authority to forgive sins that have been confessed is given to the priests of the Church who continue the apostolic ministry. The pages of the New Testament give an image of repentance by confessing sins in the presence of a priest. Jesus gives the authority to forgive sins to His disciples in an event that indicates their own ordination to a new priesthood. The texts of James and 1 John that deal with confession therefore need to be read in light of the Old Testament backdrop, the example given by John hearing confessions, and the authority to forgive sins given to the Apostles by Christ.

Conclusion:

When analyzing both the Old Testament and the New Testament texts that deal with confession it becomes clear that the traditional Christian practice of confession is far from unbiblical; rather it follows from a holistic approach to the Scriptures. During the Old Covenant it was instituted that the people of Israel should confess their sins in the presence of one of God’s consecrated priests so that he might offer up a sacrifice on their behalf, cleansing and forgiving them of their sins. Through Christ the Church has become the New Temple and her consecrated servants are priests. Throughout the Gospels the Apostles are given priestly duties and following the resurrection of Jesus are anointed with the Holy Spirit and given the priestly authority to forgive the sins of all. Within the Church, the New Temple, when sins are committed and the believers are exhorted to confess their sins it is done in the presence of the elders, the New Priests, who have the authority to forgive sins, and through their confession they are cleansed of all unrighteousness.

The Cross, The Spirit, and All the Saints: Reflection on the Feast of All Saints.

all saints

At the end of the Paschal season following the Lord’s ascension into heaven, and immediately following the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Sunday of All Saints. It’s worth noting that the Church chose to celebrate the feast of All Saints immediately after the ascension of Christ and the feast of Pentecost. This is because the Sunday of All Saints is a declaration of the very purpose of the redemption of Christ and the giving of the Spirit: to make men into saints. The economy of Christ is the very foundation of our salvation and the fulfillment of our salvation is nothing other than the complete conformity of ourselves into the likeness of Christ. When Christ ascended into heaven He rose in His glorified humanity and as the glorified and ascended God-Man He was enthroned at the right hand of the Father. By ascending and being enthroned in His incarnate body, woven within the womb of the Blessed Theotokos, not only did Christ return to His heavenly abode but, by virtue of His human nature, He also raised up all of humanity in Himself and we too are enthroned in Him. The image of the glorified and enthroned Christ is the very telos, the perfection, of human destiny. When God created the first Adam He created him in a state of innocence who, nonetheless, needed to reach a glorified perfection; Christ, as the Last Adam, brings mankind to our created perfection by glorifying us and raising us up to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. The objective salvation accomplished in Christ is given to us personally in the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit incorporates us into the glorified humanity of Christ and personally works within us to bring us to our perfected end of the likeness of Christ. The Spirit unites us to Christ, and since Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, to descent of the Spirit constitutes our ascent into the Kingdom. Through the Spirit we become sons of God; in the terminology of the Old Testament to be a “son of God” is to be the anointed king of Israel. Just as King David was anointed to reign and immediately received the Holy Spirit so we too are given the royal Spirit Who makes us sons of God by uniting us to the Eternal Son of God. Just as the Spirit was given to David to consecrate him, and empower him, to reign so likewise the Spirit enthrones us by uniting us to the enthroned One in heaven. Christ deified our human nature by uniting it to Himself in the incarnation, cleansed it of sin by His crucifixion, delivered it from death in His resurrection, and glorified it by ascending in it into the Kingdom. The Spirit, then, is our personal deifier, being the Spirit of the Son, Who transforms us from glory to glory into the likeness of the Son.

The work of the Son and the Spirit in uniting humanity to God, raising us up into the Kingdom, enthroning us, and deifying us is the foundation of sainthood. All of this has been done for the sake of turning men into saints by making us like Christ through the indwelling work of the Spirit. This sanctifying work was anticipated and typified by the ascension of Elijah. In 2 Kings 2 the day comes when the Lord will assume Elijah into heaven and Elijah is traveling with his disciple Elisha towards the place where God will lift him up. As they near the spot they approach the river Jordan. Elijah takes off his mantle and strikes the water causing a path to open up in the river, allowing the prophets to carry on with their journey. Before Elijah is taken up he asks Elisha if there’s anything that he can do for him, which prompts Elisha to ask for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. As Elijah is taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot he tears his mantle in two and it falls to the ground. Elisha picks up the fallen mantle and, just like Elijah, strikes the river Jordan opening a passage back through the river. As he emerges on the other side some nearby prophets declare that the Spirit of Elijah now rests on Elisha. The rest of the continuing narrative of Elisha enumerates the multitude of miracles performed by the prophet. In this narrative we see how when Elisha was clothed in the spirit of the ascended Elijah he became just like Elijah; just as Elijah had performed a multitude of miracles and parted the Jordan river so too we see Elisha doing the same by the power of the Spirit. This was a type of the perfected work of the ascended Christ, Who clothes us in His Spirit so that we might become exactly like Him through the work of the Spirit.

The Epistle reading for the feast of All Saints exemplifies how the way of sainthood is being conformed to Christ, promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:33-12:2). In this reading from Hebrews St. Paul describes both the sufferings and the glories of the holy and righteous forefathers of Israel. This litany of praise in honor of the saints of the Old Covenant climaxes with the proclamation of the suffering and the glory of Christ. Since Christ has brought perfection to humanity through His own suffering and glorification so too then is our path towards Christlikeness, towards sainthood, a path of suffering. This point is also emphasized in the Gospel reading during the Divine Liturgy on the feast of All Saints, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38). Our Lord Himself proclaims that unless we take up our cross and follow Him that we are unworthy of Him. Therefore the path towards the fullness and stature of the glorified Christ is the way of the cross. Only by ascending the cross with Christ can we be raised up in glory; the cross is the exaltation and glory of Christ and bridges the divide between heaven and earth.

Elsewhere in the book of Hebrews St. Paul describes the sacrifice of Christ as an offering through the Spirit, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). Christ ascended the cross in the power of the Spirit to lift up up and exalt us in Himself. Now we are called to follow Christ up the cross, in the Spirit, to be enthroned with Him. Just as Our Lord announced the way of the cross in the Gospel reading for the feast of All Saints so too does He proclaim the promise of exaltation, “Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:27-30). Having left all things behind to embrace the cross the disciples are promised to be co-enthroned with Christ; the qualities of Christ’s kingship, enthronement and judgment, are shared with His disciples. By sharing in the sufferings of Christ we are promised by Him in return a share in His kingship and glory. This is the life of the Church in the Spirit: to bear our crosses in the Spirit and by doing so to be lifted up into the heavenly throne room. Exalted by the cross in the Spirit we are enthroned next to our enthroned Lord; the One Who sits as a Lamb Who had been slain at the right hand of the Father. Here we shall rule alongside our Lord, as one of the Old Testament readings from the Vespers before the feast of All Saints declares, “but the righteous live for ever, and their reward is with the Lord; the Most High takes care of them. Therefore they will receive a glorious crown and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord, because with his right hand he will cover them, and with his right arm he will shield them” (Wisdom of Solomon 5:15-16). To take up our crosses is to receive a throne, a crown, and a diadem from Christ. This is what it means to be a saint. This has been the reward of all the saints throughout history; from St. Stephen the proto-martyr to St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain. When you read the lives of the saints the willingness to accept the cross is a consistent characterization of their lives. Just as Christ suffered for a time and then entered into His glory so too the saints endured sufferings for Christ’s sake and in return have been enthroned and glorified in Him.

So it’s fitting that the feast of All Saints follows immediately after Pentecost because the work of the Spirit is to make us saints. It’s also fitting because the Epistle and the Gospel reading for the feast provide us with the cruciform path towards sainthood.

The life in the Church is the life in the Spirit. The life in the Spirit is the life in Christ. The life in Christ is the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the way to the Kingdom. The way to the Kingdom ends in our conformity to the likeness of Christ in the Spirit and our enthronement next to our Lord. To be seated with Christ in the heavenly places is our future hope until the resurrection of the dead and the consummation of Christ’s rule, and our rule with Him, here on earth during the age to come.

This year it also turns out that the day immediately following the feast of All Saints is the first day of the Apostle’s Fast. Christ explained to the disciples of John the Forerunner that when He would be taken away then His disciples would fast. Having just celebrated the ascension of Christ, and having been given the Spirit, now is the time to fast. In fasting we embrace the cross by voluntarily renouncing earthly things so that we might be reoriented towards Christ, opening our hearts before Him and allowing the Spirit to work in us; changing us into the likeness of Christ. Fasting is also a time of anticipation. We anticipate the end of the fast and the arrival of the feast. So too this time of fasting is an image in miniature of our post-Pentecostal lives, anticipating the return of Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb. Just as we’re about to begin the Apostle’s Fast, awaiting the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, so too are our lives in the Spirit a time of anticipation, taking up our crosses, awaiting the coming day of the Lord and the feast of His Kingdom.

So as we celebrate the salvation of Christ realized in His saints and move on towards the fast it’s fitting to move forward with the words of St. Paul in our hearts, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 

Rejoice, O Full of Grace: The High Mariology of Luke 1:26-56 in Light of the Old Testament.

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Oftentimes when Christians (influenced by evangelicalism) who have a low view of Mary are confronted with the ancient Christians traditions, both East and West, that hold a much higher view of Mary they will mention how little the New Testament has to say about her. This is an indisputable fact. The primary focus on the New Testaments texts is Jesus Christ; not His mother. Nonetheless Mary isn’t entirely absent from the New Testament texts either. In fact some of the texts where she does appear actually have a lot to say about her. Arguably the most important Marian text of the New Testament is found in the beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke; beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Magnificat. On the surface level of the text it seems that all we see is that the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a son, whom she is to name Jesus, and this son will receive the throne of David. Following the angelic annunciation Mary goes to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth and upon her arrival the child in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaps for joy. Mary then offers a song of praise to that God of Israel and then the text informs us that she remained with her cousin Elizabeth for three months before going home. For most modern readers there seems to be very little about the text that might suggest anything that resembles the high Mariology of the ancient Christian traditions (except for, possibly, in 1:48 when Mary herself announces that all generations will call her blessed) but this is because many modern readers are deaf to the Old Testament echoes that overflow from these pages. When these passages are read in light of the Old Testament echoes, images, allusions, and quotations found within we see that Mary is much more than a blessed virgin: she’s more honorable than the angels, the culmination of faithful Israel, the Queen Mother of the King of Heaven, the ark of the new covenant, the bearer of the salvation of God, the prophetic Woman who’s Seed will crush the head of the serpent, the perfect keeper of the Law; she is the new Hagar, the new Rahab, the new Hannah, the new Jael, and the new Eve.

The narrative begins with the the archangel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary. The theme of an angelic visitation figures quite frequently throughout the Old Testament. The significance of Gabriel’s visitation to Mary is found in how he addresses her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Lk. 1:28) A survey of the angelic encounters throughout the Old Testament frequently shows the men honoring their angelic visitors. In Genesis 18 when three angels visit Abraham by the Oak of Mamre it describes Abraham as running to meet them and bowing down to earth before them (Gen. 18:2). In Joshua 5 when the Angel of the Lord appears to Joshua it likewise describes Joshua as going out to meet him and bowing down to the earth (Josh. 5:13-14). In other instances the angels are simply messengers while other times they appear either to defend Israel or to defeat their enemies. Here we see then that the uniqueness of Mary’s visitation is that her angelic visitor, who receives honor from Israel’s patriarchs and heroes, honors Mary in his annunciation. The words he immediately speaks to Mary also come from the Old Testament and sheds further light on Mary’s identity. The first word spoken to Mary, “Hail” (or “Rejoice”) echoes a host of Old Testament passages that address Daughter Zion. Throughout the minor prophets an address is made to Mother Jerusalem announcing the her children will rejoice in the coming messianic age (see Joel. 2:23-24, Zeph. 3:14-17, and Zech. 9:9). By extending this same exhortation of joy to Mary the archangel Gabriel is identifying Mary as a personification of faithful Israel. The fact that the birth of Jesus is the beginning of Israel’s reception of the promises and blessings of God in His Kingdom means that Mary is herself the culmination of the history of Israel as well as the embodiment of Israel; since by receiving the Lord Jesus within her womb she is the image of faithful Israel receiving the promises of God to dwell within their mist (Ezk. 37:27). The angelic proclamation to Mary that the Lord is with her echoes the story of Gideon. In Judges 6 the Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and says to him, “the Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (Jdgs. 6:12) The dialogue between Gideon and the angel likewise parallels the annunciation narrative as Gideon righteously questions the angel about his message (Jdgs. 6:13, 6:15, 6:17-18) just as Mary righteously questions Gabriel about his works to her (Lk. 1:31) as well as Gideon asks for a sign to be given to him if he has found favor in the angel’s sight (Jdgs. 6:17 – and the fact that signs are given to Gideon reveals that he has indeed found favor) while Gabriel announces to Mary that she has found favor in the sight of the Lord (Lk. 1:30). The significance of this parallel is found in the calling of both Gideon and Mary. Gideon is called by God to bring deliverance to the house of Israel (Jdgs. 6:14) while Mary is called to bear a Son Who shall be named “Jesus” (Who’s name means “Yahweh saves”). While Gideon will bring national liberation from Gentile enemies Mary will bear, and by extension give to all mankind, the One Who will deliver Israel and all creation from sin, death, and hades.

Following the initial greeting and Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear a son and is to call His name Jesus. This encounter echoes Genesis 16 when Sarai sends her pregnant maidservant Hagar away from her into the wilderness. In the wilderness Hagar is met by the Angel of the Lord at a spring of water who instructs her to return to her mistress. The Angel then promises to multiply her seed exceedingly and says to Hagar, “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, for the Lord has taken notice of your humiliation. He shall be a rustic man, and his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. He shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (Gen. 16:11-12). In both the Genesis and the Lukan narrative the angel announces to the woman that she will bear a son (Gen. 16:11 – Lk. 1:31), tells the woman what her son will be named (Gen. 16:11 – Lk. 1:31),and describes the future of the son (Gen 16:12 – Lk. 1:32-33). The connection between Hagar and Mary (and thus between Ishmael and Jesus) lies in the fact that Hagar is representative of Israel (see Gal. 4:24-25) and Ishmael is representative of the children of Israel. The parallels between these two annunciations therefore sets Mary in a position of assuming the identity of Hagar, summing up the identity of Israel in herself. Just as in the angel’s exhortation to rejoice Mary is being identified with Israel so here by echoing the annunciation of Hagar the text presents Mary as the summation of Israel.

Following the announcement to Mary that she will conceive a Son and name Him Jesus the archangel Gabriel describes to her the identity and vocation of this Son, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1:32-33) Mary is informed that she will bear the expected Messianic King; the One promised throughout the Old Testament to inherit the Davidic throne, to bring deliverance to Israel, and to usher in the coming Kingdom of God (Ps. 88:21-30 LXX, Is. 9:6-7, Ezk. 34:11-31). If Jesus is the expected King of Israel then this means that Mary will be the Queen Mother. The figure of the queen mother looms largely throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The importance of the Queen Mother is noted particularly in the lists of the kings of Israel throughout 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. With the exception of two kings (Jehoram and Ahaz) all the other kings of Israel and Judah are listed together with their mothers. The most striking image of the queen mother is found in 1 King 2:19, “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. The king rose up to meet her and kissed her tenderly. He then sat down on his throne, and a throne was placed for the king’s mother; and she was seated at his right hand.” By virtue of being the mother of Solomon a royal dignity was given to Bathsheba which even her own son honored. Since Jesus is the exalted Davidic King Who’s throne is not on earth but at the right hand of the Father this makes Mary the exalted Queen Mother of Heaven. One of the roles of the queen mother is to intercede before the king (which is exactly what Bathsheba does in 1 Kings 2:20-21; compare with the fact that Mary intercedes before Jesus at the wedding of Cana in John 2:1-12, which is itself a royal scene – kings provide wine for people at banquets; see Esther 1:1-8). Since Mary is the exalted Queen Mother of Heaven, seated at the right hand of the King of Heaven and Earth, her Son Jesus, then as the Queen Mother of Heaven she is also a heavenly intercessor for the royal subjects of her Son.

As the archangel Gabriel finishes his first speech to Mary asks the question, “How will this be, since I do not know man?” (Lk. 1:34) The archangel Gabriel responds, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk. 1:35). The imagery of the Spirit overshadowing Mary alludes to how the Glory of God overshadowed the tabernacle and the temple. Exodus 40:28-32 describes how the Glory of God overshadowed and fulled the newly finished tabernacle. The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God and a holy place. Both the tabernacle and the temple were kept in high honor, as King David spoke, “But as for me, in the fullness of mercy I will come into Your house; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” (Ps. 5:8) This identification of Mary with the temple is made further with the journey of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-56). Here the connection is made specifically with Mary and the ark of the covenant and echoes the story of 2 Samuel 6. Just as Mary arose and went to the hill country in Judah (Lk. 1:39) so likewise David arose and went with all the rulers of Judah to retrieve the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6:2). When Mary arrives Elizabeth cries out, “and why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43) just as David cried out, “In what possible way can the ark of the Lord come with me?” (2 Sam. 6:9) Just as John the Baptist leaped for joy at Mary’s arrival (Lk. 1:44) so David danced before the presence of the ark of the covenant upon it’s arrival to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:16). Mary stayed in the house of Zechariah for three months (Lk. 1:40, 56) just as the ark had remained in the house of Obed-Edom for three months (2 Sam. 6:11). By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit Mary is consecrated as the Temple of God, the bearer of the divine Glory, and the Ark of the New Covenant.

Mary’s final words to Gabriel also are also found to be an echo from the book of Joshua. Prior to the crossing of the river Jordan two spies are sent by Joshua to inspect the land. Upon entering the land the spies head to the city Jericho where they are met by the prostitute Rahab. Rahab hides the Israelite spies in a pile of flax on the roof of her home as the men of Jericho search for them. As the men of Jericho search for the spies Rahab goes to them to ask that when the armies of Israel come to conquer Jericho that they might spare her and her family. The men then swear an oath with Rahab and instruct her to hang a scarlet cord out of her window so that when the city is conquered the army will know which house to spare. At the conclusion of their conversation Rahab said to the spies, “Let it be so according to your word.” (Josh. 2:21) Following the address of the archangel Gabriel Mary says the same words to him, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38) This association reveals that the salvation of the Lord will come through Mary. Rahab’s response lead to the deliverance of the entire household of her father (Josh. 6:24). Since Mary is the summation of Israel her response will lead to the deliverance of the household of her father Abraham. Just as in the case of the parallel with Gideon this echo of Rahab announces that the salvation of the Lord, given by Jesus, will come through Mary.

Having examined Mary’s journey to her cousin Elizabeth in light of the journey of the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel it’s important to look at the details of this section of the narrative to see further echoes and allusions that deepen the identity of Mary. Upon Mary’s arrival the first words that Elizabeth says to her are, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk. 1:42) Both of these phrases are drawn from the Old Testament. The blessing that Elizabeth bestows upon Mary is taken from Judges 5:24, “Jael is blessed among women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; Blessed is she from among the women in tents.” In Judges 4 the Israelites are handed over to the Canaanite king Jabin due to their evildoing in the sight of the Lord. As the chapter progresses the prophetess Deborah announces that the Lord will hand over the whole army of Jabin and his captain to the army of Israel. According to the word of Deborah the army of Israel, lead by Barak, goes up against the army of Jabin, lead by Sisera, and utterly destroys Jabin’s army. Having been defeated the captain of Jabin’s army Sisera flees to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite who is a friend of Sisera. Jael offers Sisera refuge but while Sisera is sleeping Jael drives a tent peg through the head of Sisera, killing him. This motif of the woman crushing the head of the enemy is a biblical theme that began in the Garden of Eden. Following the disobedience in the Garden the Lord utters a curse on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. In His address to the serpent the Lord says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for his heel” (Gen. 3:15) This theme continues throughout the Old Testament as various oppressors of the patriarchs, and of Israel, are depicted as symbolic serpents. Since the symbolic serpents are attacking the patriarchs and Israel, who are the seed of Eve, the conflicts are seen as conflicts between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Since the Sisera is representative of the oppressive rule of Jabin he is a symbolic serpent who attacks the seed of the woman, Israel. The fact that Jael, the woman, crushes the head of Sisera, reveals that she is representative of the prophetic woman who crushes the head of the serpent. This biblical theme reaches it’s climax in Mary. Mary is the definitive woman who’s seed will crush the head of the great serpent Satan. The promise in the Garden reaches it’s fulfillment in Mary and once again we see how the salvation of the Lord will come through Mary. Mary is in fact the great reversal of Eve; as Eve’s disobedience lead to all the cosmos being plunged into death and subjugation to the serpent so Mary’s obedience lead to the deliverance of the cosmos from death and the serpent. As Eve was called the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20) so is Mary truly the mother of all living; since true life is only given by her Seed Who crushed the head of the serpent.

The second phrase uttered by Elizabeth, “blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk. 1:42) alludes to one of the promises made by God in the book of Deuteronomy. In chapter 28 the Lord describes the blessings that will come upon Israel if they diligently keep all the commandments of the Law. One of the blessings is related to Israel’s offspring, “blessed shall be the offspring of your womb…the Lord shall increase you in good things; in the fruit of your womb.” (Deut. 28:4, 11). Looking at Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary’s womb in light of Deuteronomy 28 indicates the holiness of Mary. God’s blessing of the fruit of Israel’s womb wasn’t some arbitrary blessing but was rooted in Israel’s obedience to the Law. What this tells us is that according to the Mosaic Law itself Mary perfectly kept the law and in return for her personal holiness God granted her the most Blessed Fruit of the womb; the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

The annunciation narrative ends with Mary’s song of praise to God, known as the Magnificat. The text of the Magnificat closely resembles the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah offers this prayer in context of offering her son Samuel to the service of God. The son given by Hannah is the one who God used to bring an end to the current age of the judges, bringing an end to the current priesthood, the destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh, and the ushering in of a new age; the age of the kings, a new priesthood, and a new place of worship. This too is brought to fulfillment by the Son of Mary Who brought the age of the old covenant to finality and initiated the age of His Messianic Kingdom, bringing judgment upon the temple and the levitical priesthood and establishing the new temple, the Church, and His own priesthood of Melchezidek. While the age of Israel’s kings was brought through Samuel yet he himself wasn’t the king of Israel, nor was he the new priest, nor did he establish the new place of worship. Since Jesus is Himself the King of Israel, the Great High Priest, and the New Temple this further emphasizes Mary’s identity as the Queen Mother and the new Temple (both by virtue of Jesus the Great High Priest entering her womb as a new Holy of Holies and by building the Temple of Jesus’ body from her own flesh and blood).

Far from the modern evangelical dismissal of a high Mariology as unbiblical a proper reading of the Marian texts of the New Testament, in light of their Old Testament backgrounds, reveals an exalted vision of Mary. Reading the New and the Old Testament together presents us with Mary as the culmination of the history of Israel as well as the embodiment, fulfillment, and summation of the nation. While the men of Israel gave honor to angels she is presented as being higher than the angels when Gabriel gives her honor at his visitation. She has a concrete role in the history and work of God’s salvation, just as Gideon and Rahab, by bearing in her womb of Salvation of God. She is the hallowed Temple, Holy of Holies, Ark of the New Covenant, and builder of the Temple. She is the intercessory Queen Mother of the King of Heaven and Earth, enthroned at the right hand of her Son. She is the prophetic fulfillment of the Woman who crushes the head of the serpent and a new Eve as the Mother of all the Living. She perfectly kept the Law and received the promised Blessed Fruit from God in her womb. All of this is presented to us from the Annunciation to the Magnificat and leads us to conclude that anything less than an exalted vision of Mary is an unbiblical position; to be fully biblical is to bless, honor, and exalt the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, our intercessory Queen Mother of Heaven.

Passing Beyond the Veil: The Conquest of Canaan and the Day of Atonement.

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In the beginning of the book of Joshua the people of Israel are standing on the edge of the Promised Land. Immediately as the book begins Joshua is commanded by Yahweh, “arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving them, to the sons of Israel” (Josh. 1:2). While the text of Joshua doesn’t disclose the exact location of the people of Israel (other than their proximity to the Jordan River) according to Numbers 22:1 they are stationed on the plains of Moab; east of the Jordan River. There’s a symbolic significance to their geographic location. Firstly the plains of Moab, and specifically the land of Shittim – where we find out later is where Israel is located (Josh. 2:1), are associated with acacia trees. When we connect the imagery of trees and water a garden motif arises which evokes imagery of the Garden of Eden. Secondly, to strengthen the garden motif, the fact that the people of Israel are encamped in a garden like land to the east of the Promised Land likewise echoes of the Garden of Eden, which God planted in the east of Eden (Gen. 2:8). The text is thereby presenting Israel as a new corporate Adam has been placed by God in a new Edenic Garden. Unlike the first Adam, who through disobedience was cast out further east from the Garden, this new corporate Adam will be faithful and pass westward beyond the garden and into the land itself.

Connected to this theme of Israel as a corporate Adam and the land as a new Eden is both temple and priestly imagery. The Genesis narrative presents both the land in temple language as well as Adam as a priestly figure. As James B. Jordan notes in his book Through New Eyes the establishment of the earth is tripartite, just as the tabernacle and temples will be, “the Bible tells us that God planted a garden in Eden, on the east side of the land (Genesis 2:8). This establishes three environments on the earth: Garden, Eden, [and] World.”i The placement of the garden in the east, with Adam being placed by God in the garden, placed Adam on a westward course out of the garden and into the land, as Peter Leithart notes in A House For My Name, “Adam’s highest achievement will be to move from the garden into the land of Eden. He was not created to serve in the garden only but to rule in the land.”ii The placing of Adam in the garden corresponds to the entering of the levitical priests into the Holy Place and just as animals were brought to Adam so animals were brought to the priests. Adam is called to serve in the garden just as the levitical priests serve in the Holy Place. Therefore Adamic imagery is connected to the priesthood while Edenic imagery is connected to the temple.

What we see in the beginning of Joshua then is a priestly Israel abiding in the Holy Place of the land. What becomes readily apparent, following this imagery, is the entrance into the Promised Land serving as a symbolic entrance into the Holy of Holies. This is heightened by the fact that Israel passes through a natural veil, the Jordan River, that separates the land of Shittim from the Promised Land (just as the inner veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies). On top of that the crossing of the Jordan River is carried out as a liturgical procession where Israel is preceded by priests bearing the ark of the covenant (Josh. 3:7-8, 14-17). The carrying of the ark of the covenant into the Promised Land through the Jordan River images the placing of the ark of the covenant beyond the inner veil into the Holy of Holies. Further strengthening the temple imagery of the land the crossing of the Jordan River with the ark of the covenant clearly delineates the Promised Land as a geographic Holy of Holies.

With the Promised Land being designated as the Holy of Holies the movement of priestly Israel into the Promised Land portrays Israel as being a corporate high priest. Leviticus 16 states that only the high priest, and only once a year, was allowed the enter the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:1-4, 34). By following behind the ark of the covenant past the watery veil of the River Jordan the people of Israel are ordained as a high priestly people to serve before the presence of Yahweh.

In light of the Holy of Holies and high priestly imagery of the entrance into the land it follows that the conquest of Canaan can be seen as a militarized Day of Atonement. As noted earlier above the only time the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies was once a year on the Day of Atonement. The offerings described in Leviticus 16 for the Day of Atonement purposed to sanctify and cleanse the entire nation of Israel of all her impurities and uncleanliness. In describing the Day of Atonement the text of Leviticus 23:27 dictates that, “you shall humble your souls and offer a whole burnt offering to the Lord.” Interestingly enough within the Torah whole burnt offerings weren’t limited to animal offerings alone. In Deuteronomy 13:16 the ritual burning of a city is described as being a whole burnt offering. With this in mind we can see more clearly how the conquest of Canaan is in fact a militarized Day of Atonement. The conquest features three cities being burned down; Joshua, Ai, and Hazor. In light of Deuteronomy 13:16 these are whole burnt offerings to Yahweh by the high priestly Israel. Just as the offerings on the Day of Atonement were for the cleansing of Israel from ceremonial uncleanliness so the conquest of Canaan is a removal of the unclean Gentiles from the land. Through the conquest Israel is cleansing the future land of the nation of Israel from uncleanliness through liturgical warefare.

The entrance of Israel into the Promised Land isn’t merely the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and the patriarchs that their descents will inherit the land; the story is much deeper and richer than that. On top of divine promise the story pictures Israel as a corporate priestly Adam going where the first Adam never did; westward into the land. Based on the temple arrangement of the land, along with the procession of the ark of the covenant, the Promised Land is thus seen to be a geographic Holy of Holies. The priestly Israel becomes a high priestly people as they pass beyond the watery veil into the geographic Holy of Holies. Since the only time the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, according to Levitical law, was on the Day of Atonement, the conquest of Canaan, replete with the offering of cities as whole burnt offerings and cleansing the land of unclean Gentiles, is itself a militarized Day of Atonement.

iJames B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999, pg. 152.

iiPeter Leithart, A House For My Name, Moscow: Canon Press, 2000, pg. 53.

Exodus and the Harrowing of Hell

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The story of the Exodus is a story of the God of Israel entering into a land of bondage, triumphing over His adversaries in their own dominion, and emerging victorious. As the Victorious King He delivers His people, who have been held captive, from their bondage and makes them His own sons.

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, when God is commissioning Moses to go into the land of Egypt and deliver His people in bondage, God says to Moses, “So he [Aaron] shall be your spokesman to the people, and he himself shall be your mouth; and you shall be to him as God” (Ex. 4:16). Going into the land of bondage Aaron serves as a voice for Moses, who himself is the representative of the God of Israel, announcing judgement and delivery of God’s people. Throughout the story Moses performs many wondrous signs and miracles in the sight of everyone; some of which are clear signs that the God of Israel is conquering the gods of Egypt. The first and ninth plagues manifest a clear defeat of Egypt’s gods by the God of Israel. The Egyptians worship the Nile river as a god and by turning the water of the Nile to blood the God of Israel has turned the life of the Nile the death. Likewise when the God of Israel causes darkness to fall upon the land of Egypt He has shown His might over the divine sun; extinguishing the light of the divine. Finally, after the final plague and the celebration of Passover – where the blood of a lamb was placed upon wooden doorposts – Pharaoh relents and allows the people of Israel to leave. On their way out the people of Israel are pursued by Pharaoh and his armies but the God of Israel has another mighty act to perform. As Moses stretches out his arms on the edge of the sea the waters part before him and the people are granted safe passage through the sea. While Israel makes there way through the passage they are again pursued by Pharaoh and his armies; but what becomes the deliverance of Israel is the destruction of Pharaoh. As Israel passes through to the other side Moses once again stretches out his hands and the waters of the sea come crashing down on Pharaoh and his armies; drowning in the waters that brought new life to Israel. Having been delivered by the God of Israel through the ministry of Moses the people of Israel have gone from slavery to sonship; as God Himself adopts them as His firstborn son (Ex. 4:22).

Since the first fall of creation where the Serpent outwitted the first formed man and women all of humanity has been plunged into death and under the dominion of the prince of the age; rather than assuming the sonship given to them the human race was taken captive and made slaves in a house of bondage. The Exodus of Moses was a proleptic event anticipating the coming of a new and greater Moses Who would deliver His people from the bondage of the serpent. While Moses had been the representative of the God of Israel the new Moses was the very God of Israel Himself; embodied and enfleshed. While Aaron was the voice of an un-eloquent Moses the new Moses is Himself the Word Who is preceded by the voice crying in the wilderness. The signs and miracles of Moses announced the victory of the God of Israel over the powers of Egypt while the signs and miracles of the new Moses announced the victory of the God of Israel over the dark powers of the world. The blood of the lamb on the wooden posts and the outstretched arms of Moses looked forward to the outstretched arms of the Lamb of God upon the wood of the cross; pouring out His blood for the life of the world. Through His death on the cross the new Moses entered into the dominion of the true and greatest Pharaoh; who had held all humanity in death from the beginning. Just as the passing through the sea was the deliverance of Israel and the defeat of Pharaoh so the entrance of the new Moses into the dominion of death conquered the true Pharaoh in his own dominion. Just as Israel plundered the spoils of the Egyptians so the new Moses entered into the house of the strongman, tied him up, and plundered his spoils. Just as Moses entered into the sea and came up on the other side with slaves turned to sons so the new Moses rose up from the dead, raising up humanity with Himself turning the captives into sons of God.

The descent of Christ into Hades is the true Exodus where the God of Israel enters into the domain of death; the house of bondage for all mankind from the first fall of creation. Entering into death Christ conquers the devil, delivers those held in bondage, and raises them up with Himself into new life; His own Life. The Son of God Who entered into, destroyed, and was raised from the dead gives His life to those who were dead and makes them into sons of God.

true exodus

Moses the New Jacob: Israel’s Jacobite and Mosaic Identity.

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Throughout the book of Genesis we see through various characters, events, and patterns “pre-capitulations” of the entire narrative of the Torah – or we can look at it as the patterns established in Genesis replaying themselves throughout the Torah. The Creation narrative is replayed in the Flood account; for just as Adam was put in the Garden and had animals brought to him by God so likewise Noah had the animals brought to him by God and he entered into the Ark. At the end of the flood narrative we see God giving the Noah practically the same commission that He had given to Adam following his creation. The story of the flood also anticipates the story of the Exodus; the ark passes through the waters of the flood, comes to Mount Ararat, then Noah offers sacrifice to God and receives a law from Him just Israel passes through the waters of the Red Sea, comes to Mount Sinai, offer a sacrifice to God, and receive the Law. Recognizing that the stories, patterns, and characters of Genesis serve as the foundation for reoccurring patterns, types, and people throughout the Torah (and the rest of the Bible in general) it’s not surprising that many characteristics of the major figures in Genesis summed up in the central figure of the Torah; Moses.

One of the most important associations the Torah makes with Moses is the figure of Jacob. Early on in Exodus we see Moses in a similar situation that Jacob found himself in. In Genesis 27 Esau wants to kill Jacob so he’s forced to flee his home and finds refuge with his relative Laban. On the way he stops at a well and meets his future bride Rachel at the well. After the meeting with Rachel he’s brought to Laban, welcomed, and then stays there in Mesopotamia. In Exodus 2 the Pharaoh of Egypt is seeking to kill Moses so he’s forced to flee Egypt and heads for the land of Midian. On his way he stops at a well and meets his future bride Zipporah, who brings him to her father Jethro. Jethro welcomes Moses, gives him Zipporah to be his bride, and takes Moses into his own home. Likewise in Exodus 4 we see Moses returning to the land of his birth where he meets his brother Aaron, who he hasn’t seen since his flight from Egypt; just as in Genesis 31-33 we see Jacob returning to the land of his birth where he meets his brother Esau. Another significant connection the Torah makes between Moses and Jacob is found in the literary echoing of Genesis 49-50 by Deuteronomy 33-34. The significance of this connection is heightened by the fact that both sections of Genesis and Deuteronomy serve as the ending of their respective books; Deuteronomy (and thus the entire Torah) ends the same way as Genesis. In Genesis 49-50 we see the aged Jacob, having traveled into the land of Egypt, pronouncing his final words upon each of his sons; followed by his death and burial in Egypt. Deuteronomy 33-34 shows the final blessings of Moses upon each of the tribes of Israel before his own death and burial in the wilderness.

This connection between Moses and Jacob exemplifies to what degree the people of Israel find their identity in Moses. Jacob was himself given the name Israel; which would become the name used by the nation composed of the tribes originating from his sons. Israel’s national identity is inextricably connected to Jacob since they are both the sons of Jacob as well as a corporate Jacob. Moses likewise provides sources of national identity to Israel by the role he played in Israel’s Exodus, wilderness wanderings, and entrance into the Promised Land. Moses is the father of the delivered Israel; born out of the womb of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness. Through Moses the Law is given to Israel; the observance which distinguishes the identity of the People of Israel from the other nations. Israel’s identity is that of being the children of Jacob and the keepers of the Law of Moses; exemplified in the typological and literary connections between Jacob and Moses as fathers and heads of the people and therefore serving as the marks of identity.

Echoes of Esther in the Death of John the Baptist

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The story of John the Baptist’s beheading is referred to in all the synoptic Gospels; Matthew and Mark tell the story in detail while Luke merely references it. The story is, like the rest of Holy Scripture, a “multi-vocal” story with a multiplicity of themes and lessons to be drawn from it. Interpreters throughout history have focused on a variety of points throughout the text that highlight different hermeneutical  approaches; varying from the ethical, to the allegorical, to the typological. For example St. Jerome sees in John’s rebuke of Herod and Herodias an anti-type of the relationship between Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, “John the Baptist, who had come in the spirit and power of Elijah, with the same authority whereby the latter had rebuked Ahab and Jezebel, upbraided Herod and Herodias because they had entered into an unlawful marriage” (Commentary on Matthew 2.14.4). The specific event that St. Jerome has in mind is found in 1 Kings 21 and relates the story of King Ahab desiring the vineyard of a certain Naboth. When Naboth refuses to give Ahab his vineyard the King returns home distraught. Upon seeing the King in such a condition Jezebel assures him that she will acquire Naboth’s vineyard for him. Jezebel has Naboth killed so that Ahab can take the dead man’s vineyard. Following these events the prophet Elijah confronts the King and rebukes him for doing such an evil thing in the sight of the Lord. The key typological connections between the two stories are found in royalty taking something that doesn’t belong to them (whether it’s another man’s vineyard or another man’s wife) resulting in a rebuke from a prophet. Reading through the rest of the narrative further clues are given that connect the story of John’s beheading with another significant Old Testament narrative; the story of Esther.

Continuing through the narrative we see King Herod hosting an important banquet (Matt. 14:6). This image of a feasting King begins the connection with the book of Esther; since the King Artaxerxes throws three separate banquets throughout the book (Esther 1:3, 5:14, and 7:1; LXX). Connecting Herod with Artaxerxes we see then that when Herodias’ daughter is brought before the King and pleases him through her dancing (Matt. 14:6) that she’s being presented as a new Esther; who was brought before the King Artaxerxes and pleased him (Esther 2:9; LXX). The clearest connection between the two stories is found in Herod’s promise to the young woman, as related in Mark’s Gospel, “”Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom”” (Mk. 6:22-23). These words directly echo King Artaxerxes in his promise to Esther and the third banquet in the narrative, “”What is it Queen Esther? What is your request? What is your petition? Let it be granted to you, even up to half my kingdom”” (Esther 7:2). If we were unsure about the typological associations between these character prior, now we can have no doubts. The rest of the story also finds parallel with the book of Esther where Herodias figures as a new Mordecai, counseling her daughter about what she should say to the King (Mk. 6:24-25 and Esther 4:8; LXX) and the King keeps his promises in giving the young woman what she desires (Matt. 14:9-11 and Esther 8:4-8; LXX).

While the story of Esther presents her as the heroine and savior of the Jewish people the Gospel narratives depict the beheading of John the Baptist as an “anti-Esther” event; not only through the Gospel story being an anti-type to the book of Esther but more importantly “anti” in it’s depiction of the royal protagonists as the villains rather than the heroes. In fact Herodias seems to have more in common with the antagonistic Haman rather than the vindicated Mordecai. Just like Haman, Herodias suffered an offense that left her seeking deadly recompense. In the book of Esther the King Artaxerxes elevates Haman and commands that everyone in his court should bow to Haman. While everyone else follows the King’s command Mordecai refuses to bow. As Esther 3:5 (LXX) relates, “When Haman learned that Mordecai did not bow to him, he became exceedingly angry, and he determined to destroy all the Jews of the kingdom of Artaxerxes.” While Haman seeks the blood of Jews in satisfaction of Mordecai’s offense Herodias seeks the head of John to satisfy the insult she bore at John’s rebuke. The figure of Herodias therefore takes on a sinister blend of characteristics from both Haman and Mordecai as a bloodthirsty offended noble and counselor of the young woman. Whereas the story of Esther concludes with the salvation of the Jewish people through the intercessions of the righteous Esther the story of the new Esther ends with the death of the righteous John through the intercession of the unrighteous Herodias and her daughter. Both stories also end with the death of the royal antagonist; Haman is hanged in Esther 7:10 (LXX) while John is beheaded in Matthew 14:10-11.

The unrighteousness of Herod, Herodias, and her daughter is exemplified by their echoing of righteous figures from Israel’s history. They figure as a sort of wicked imitation through their unjust execution of the righteous John. Inasmuch as the King Artaxerxes was righteous in heeding the cry of Esther, hanging wicked Haman, and saving the Jewish people from slaughter, King Herod is wicked for heeding the unrighteous cry of Herodias’ daughter and having John beheaded; rather than saving him from such an end. If the story of Esther exemplifies royalty at its best then the echos of Esther in the beheading of John the Baptist manifest royalty at its worst.

Sharing in the Sufferings and Glory of Christ: 1st Peter and the Apocalyptic Anticipation of Christian Suffering.

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At the heart of the First Epistle of Peter is the exhortation towards a life of holiness and patient endurance of suffering. On both sides of these exhortations, functioning as book ends to the Epistle, are descriptions of a future revelation; a revelation of Jesus (1:7, 1:13, 5:4) and His glory (4:3, 5:1), grace (1:13), crowns of glory (5:4), and ultimately salvation (1:5). This apocalyptic anticipation that Peter is striving to stir up within the hearts of the recipients of his letter serve the purpose of being the incentive to pursue holiness and to endure the suffering and trials that befall them. Peter’s audience is therefore to live in the present with view of the future and to look at their sufferings and struggles within the light of the future unveiling of glory. The sufferings of the Christians will ultimately result in an apocalyptic glorification at the Second Coming of Jesus precisely because Jesus Himself both suffered and was glorified; thus Jesus’ sufferings and glorification serve as the paradigm for the Christian life.

The themes of Jesus’ sufferings and glorification are threaded throughout the Epistle from beginning to end. At the beginning of the Epistle Peter announces that the prophets of Israel predicted, “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory,” (1:11) while a significant portion of the second chapter uses Jesus’ sufferings as the foundation for an exhortation to patiently endure unjust suffering, “for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (2:21) Nearing the end of the Epistle is the proclamation that Jesus suffered in the flesh and how the Christians, to whom Peter is writing, ought to put off sinful habits and to pursue holiness through their own sufferings because, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” (4:1). While the Epistle assigns Jesus’ sufferings an exemplary role it makes it clear that Christian suffering is not merely an imitation of Jesus’ sufferings but are in fact a participation in them, “rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings.” (4:13)

Jesus’ sufferings are held up as an example precisely because His sufferings resulted in His glorification; and at His revelation so too will His glory be revealed. Just as His sufferings (events in the past) are spoken of in participatory language so too is His glory (always spoken of in the future tense) given to the Christians to participate in, as Peter says of himself, “[as] a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.” (5:1) Therefore through participating in Jesus’ sufferings through their own patient endurance and pursuit of holiness they likewise become partakers in the present of Jesus’ eschatological glory.

The Christian life is therefore characterized by a life of holiness and suffering rooted in Jesus’ own holiness (1:15) and sufferings (2:21) in anticipation of the future apocalyptic appearance of the glorified Christ where they too will glorified by His own glory since the shared in His sufferings. Jesus’ sufferings form the basis for Christian suffering and the anticipation of apocalyptic glory works as the incentive for Christians to endure the sufferings that befall them and to pursue holiness.

Jesus the Great Jubilee

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Sometimes when the New Testament authors speak about Jesus’ work of salvation they speak of it as being an act of redemption (Gal. 3:13, 1 Pet. 1:8, Heb. 9:12). Likewise St. Paul speaks about the human condition in Adam as being “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). This language of redemption, as well of those who are sold, echoes Leviticus 25 and how it speaks about the Year of Remission (or the Jubilee). Here we see the text say that, “if your brother with you becomes poor and has sold some of his possession, and his closest relative comes, then he may redeem what his brother sold” (Lev. 25:25). Humanity itself had become poor when it sold itself as a slave to sin so the Word of God became flesh so that He might become our brother – our closest relative – as the book of Hebrews states, “for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11).

According to Leviticus 25 the Year of Remission begins on the fiftieth year; specifically on the Day of Atonement. The rites of the Day of Atonement are described in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement the high priest, dressed in a linen tunic, enters into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling the blood of a bull on the mercy seat, and he makes atonement for the sins of all the children of Israel. Again the book of Hebrews sees this fulfilled in Jesus, “but Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12).

By His death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of the Father Jesus redeemed us who were sold under sin. The Gospel of John presents the burial of Jesus as the vesting of the High Priest, and laying Him in the tomb is His entrance into the Holy of Holies. Levitucus 16 says that before the high priest can enter into the Holy of Holies 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,” (Lev. 16:4) and the Gospel of John relates that when Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body of Jesus for burial that, “they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in stripes of linen” (Jn. 19:40). After the sending out of the scapegoat the high priest is instructed to return into the tabernacle and, “take off the linen garments he put on when he went into the holy place; and he shall leave them there” (Lev. 16:23). After Jesus’ resurrection when Peter runs into the tomb, “he saw the linen cloths lying there” (Jn. 20:6). Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross fulfills the sacrificial offering of animals in the levitical system and by His blood He makes atonement. His entrance into the tomb and resurrection fulfill the levitical rite of the Day of Atonement and by this redeems Israel – and all of humanity and the cosmos – from sin.

The Year of Remission was not only connected with the ritual purification of the Day of Atonement but also signaled the return of everyone to their homeland, “you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim remission throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall signal the Year of Remission for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his homeland” (Lev. 25:10). Paradise is the true homeland of humanity since when God created man He placed him in the garden where man walked and communed with God. After the rebellion against God in the Garden man lived as an outcast; unable to return to his edenic homeland. When Jesus ascends into heaven – returning to His own homeland from where He came – he returns all of mankind with Him through His humanity into the throne room of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, seating us with Himself.

When Jesus ascended the cross He offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of humanity’s sins. His burial reveals Him to be the vested High Priest who enters into the Holy of Holies. Through His resurrection and ascension He redeems all those who were sold under sin since He is our brother who shared in our flesh and blood. This begins the great Year of Remission where by the proclamation of the Church and the response of faith men, women, and children of Israel and all the nations were baptized (and continue to be) for the remission of their sins and are raised up to their heavenly home with Christ by the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.