Return to Eden: Part 9 – A New Heaven & and New Earth

A New Heaven and A New Earth

The idea is so foreign to us that we can’t really even envision it.

Eden restored.

Life as it was intended before we chose our own path and corrupted it. No pain. No death. No crying. No conflict. And if that were all, it would be amazing beyond comprehension, but that’s not even the best part.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:4 ESV

And this is why we can call it Eden again. It is then that we will experience our existence as God originally created us; in perfect, intimate, unrestricted relationship with the One True God.

We spend so much of our time and energy focusing on the lives we have now; our Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 existence. Now there is pain. Now there is death. Now there is crying. Now there is conflict. And now our relationship with God is limited.

Now we live in the wilderness. We’re Israel after the Red Sea and before the Jordan River. We live as nomadic wanderers, never fully feeling like we fit. As soon as we get comfortable in one spot, it seems as if God says it’s time to pick up and move again. We wait daily for the provision of God. We wonder if this was all a mistake. Every moment of every days whispers to our soul that we’re not home yet. As the old gospel song says, “This world is not my home; I’m just’a passing through.”

Please remember this. We aren’t home yet. We struggle and hurt and fall and cry. But a day is coming when that will all be changed.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:5 ESV

And so, whether we realize it or not, our hearts are longing for the day when we hear our Messiah say these words:

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21: 6-7 ESV

But for now, while we live in this broken world, we are called to live differently. We are called to be the light that guides others to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I’m reminded of the lyrics to this song:

I Then Shall Live

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven.

I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.

I know my name is clear before my Father;

I am His child and I am not afraid.

So, greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother;

The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion.

I’ve been so loved, that I’ll risk loving too.

I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;

I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.

And when relationships demand commitment,

Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;

Your power and glory, let them shine through me.

Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,

And may Your living Kingdom come in me.

The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,

And may You feed a hungry world through me.

And let us also remember what awaits us:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 21 & 22 ESV

It sounds a whole lot like Eden to me. And so I join with John the Revelator in saying, “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!”

Return to Eden: Part 8 – The Presence of God among Men

What was it like for God to have His relationship with us cut off?  Have you ever taken the time to think about that?  We focus a lot on what sin meant for us, but what about God?

He created us out of a longing to be with beings that could choose to love Him.  He wanted, probably even more than we do, to be with us.  And sin broke that relationship.

So He tried to maintain it as best He could after Eden.  But it was never the same.  The sin that we hold on to so tightly kept Him from us.  At times He had relationships with individuals – Enoch, Noah, Abraham – but it wasn’t what He truly desired.

So in the wilderness of Sinai, He decided to change things up.  He commanded Moses to construct a place where He would dwell on Earth.  It was to be patterned exactly after Heaven (see Hebrews 8:5), and God promised that in it He would sit on the throne – the Ark of the Covenant.  That’s why Moses was told to be sure that Angels and gold, and silver, and precious woods were used in the Tabernacle.  It was His attempt at making Heaven on Earth.

But it still wasn’t the same as Eden.  God was there, but only one time per year would humanity be allowed to enter into the throne-room and come before God’s presence.  It was better than nothing, but not what God longed for.

King David longed for that same type of relationship.  He understood, as best as his limited mind could, that God desired to be present among us.  So he asked if he could build a permanent residence in Jerusalem for Him.    David’s history as a warrior and murderer prevented him from building it, but he was given the honor of preparing everything for his son, Solomon, to build it.  And the Temple was stunning.  It was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was absolutely glorious.  But it still wasn’t Eden.  And just as with the Tabernacle only one man was authorized to enter before God’s presence in the Temple, and then only once per year.  It was closer to Heaven on Earth, but still not what God desired.

So God again took a different approach.  If man couldn’t enter before His presence in the Temple, He would leave the Temple and come to them:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

That Greek word for “dwelt” is actually the same as the Hebrew word “tabernacle.”  That verse could just as accurately – maybe even more accurately –  be translated, “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

That’s why we see Jesus refer to His body as the Temple of God over and over again.  The prophet Ezekiel wrote that he saw God’s presence leave Solomon’s Temple (Ezekiel 10:18).  God wasn’t in the Holy of Holies anymore.  The Temple was never a building.  It was the place that God chose to dwell on Earth.  That’s why Jesus so many times said that the “Temple” would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  He was the Temple.  God was dwelling among the people, and they finally had a relationship with him.  But as much as Jesus was God, He was still man.  He could only be in one place at a time.  His original desire was still not fulfilled.  It still wasn’t Eden.

And then He left.  Forty days after rising from the grave He returned to Heaven.  And God was no longer on the Earth.  But then on Shavuot, God came back.  He returned, this time as His very Breath filled the Believers on Shavuot.  And God was able to be with humanity wherever His people were.

The Temple became His people.  Paul tells us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Peter goes so far as to tell us that each one of us who receive Jesus have become a Living Stone being built up into God’s dwelling place on the Earth (1 Peter 2:5).  As His people, together we carry God’s presence on the Earth.  It’s closer to what He desires, but we know that it still isn’t Heaven on Earth.  We are broken.  We are weak.  And there are billions who still don’t have a relationship with Him.  It still isn’t Eden.

And a day will come soon, when Jesus will return.  Those of us who have yielded ourselves to Him will be resurrected to live forever in perfect bodies free from the sin that separates us from Him.  And Jesus will begin a thousand years of showing us what this life could have been like had we followed His Torah, and allowed Him to be our Ruler and Messiah.  But there will be those who have yet to receive His Spirit, or been resurrected to new life.  There will be those who will enter into Messiah’s Kingdom rule after the world nearly destroys itself trying to be its own god.  They will live under His rule and reign, but many will still seek to be separated from His presence.  While life during the Millennial Kingdom will be the most amazing experience since Eden, it still will not be Heaven on Earth.  It still won’t be Eden.

That’s why we will continue to observe the Feast of Sukkot.  Zechariah tells us that each year, there will be the command to go up to Jerusalem and remember that, while Jesus will be here ruling, things still won’t be as they were intended  (Zechariah 14:16-19).  And at the end of those thousand years, many will choose separation from God over relationship with Him.  There will be war again.  But when that is finished, God will finally return us to Eden.

Next Post: A New Heaven and a New Earth

Return to Eden: Part 7 – The Symbols of Sukkot

Pictures can unlock the Scriptures.  Truths are revealed when we can step back and see the common threads that tie it all together.

The lulav.  The etrog.  The sukkah.  The living water.  The Tabernacle in the midst of the people.  A week of celebration.  These aren’t  just details.  They are the images that God has chosen to use to reveal what His ultimate plan for humanity is.

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths,  that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 23:39-32 ESV

The lulav is actually a general term for a grouping of the different plants that God instructed Israel to decorate their dwellings with during the feast.  It specifically refers to the palm branches used, but also includes the etrog – a citrus fruit, the myrtle branch, and the willow branch.  In addition to each booth being constructed of these items, all four are combined into a single item that is left at the entrance of the booth, or sukkah.

The sukkah is the special booth that Israel was commanded to construct and dwell in during the feast.  It is important to understand that it became the tradition that continues today that the family should eat the evening meal inside the sukkah each night of the feast.  In the Eastern culture, eating a meal with someone was a picture of relationship.  Covenants were agreed upon this way.  That’s when Jesus renewed the covenant with His disciples.

Now, by the time of Jesus, further traditions had arisen around the Feast of Sukkot, none more important than the Water Libation Ceremony.  The Mishna (Jewish commentary on Scripture) describes it this way:

Whoever has not seen the celebration of the water libation has never experienced the feeling of true joy – great lamps of gold were hoisted, with four golden bowls at the top of each lamp. Four young priests-in-training would climb to the top, carrying immense oil jugs with which they would fill the bowls. Once lighted, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that did not glow with the light that emanated from the celebration in the Temple courtyard.

As the people sang, the righteous and pious men would dance before them while juggling flaming torches. The levites, standing on the fifteen steps that descend from the Court of Israel to the Women’s Court, played on lyres, harps, trumpets and many other instruments. Two priests who blew silver trumpets stood at the top of the stairs on either side of the entrance to the great gate of the Court.

All this was done to honor the commandment of the water libation.

(based on Mishna, Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 5)

Every morning during the feast, a priest would proceed from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam where he would draw water from the pool with a special golden decanter.  He would be accompanied by thousands who were waiting for this moment each day.  After returning to the Temple, he would poor the water into a silver cup at the corner of the altar.

This was a ceremony that tied directly to the need for rainfall.  The fall of each year is the rainy season in Israel.  If the rains came, along with it came abundance and prosperity.  If it did not, then famine and death.

This ceremony was even more important on the final day of the feast, called the “Last Great Day.”  When the priest poured the water onto the altar, it was referred to as “living water.”

So as we turn to look at what these feast specifically symbolizes, these are the pictures that we must keep in the front of our minds:  greenery; fruit; the presence of God; living water; relationship.

Next Post: The Presence of God among Men 

Return to Eden: Part 6 – Paradise Restored

One glimpse of the camp of the Hebrews on the first day of Sukkot left the beholder nothing short of speechless.

The Tabernacle itself was always breathtaking; the tapestries and the gold and the sacrifices were beautiful.  But the presence of God was the most stunning feature.  To see the cloud of glory hovering over the Tabernacle instilled fear in any who saw it.  This same pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that had guided the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the Red Sea on dry land, was a symbol of protection to the Hebrews and terror to their enemies.

But during Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles – the camp became something straight out of fantasy.  Every year during the forty years of wandering in the desert, the camp of Israel was transformed into a paradise.  Each dwelling was covered with palm fronds, willow and myrtle branches, and fruit.  And since the people dwelt encircling the Tabernacle – with God, Himself, in the center – it was simply amazing to see.

Don’t miss the imagery here.  The Hebrews are in the wilderness.  It’s dry; dusty; brown; barren.  And there are around two million former slaves encamping there, with the glory of God in the middle of them.  And then each one of these two million people’s tents is now overflowing with greenery and fruit and life.  What is God trying to teach them?

Walk with me through what we’ve already seen in this series.  The world was created perfectly.  There was a garden with life and relationship with God.  But man’s sin changed all of that.  So God had to send His only Son as the Passover Lamb to take away the sins of the world.  Jesus’ perfect body was broken as the Unleavened Bread.  He rose as the First Fruits.  His Spirit was sent on Shavuot to write the Torah on the hearts of mankind.  He will return at Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets and judge the world shortly thereafter on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  The only feast left is Sukkot , the feast that celebrates God dwelling among His people.

And that is the picture we seen in the wilderness.  We see a multitude of God’s chosen people dwelling in a beautiful paradise with God dwelling in the center of them.  The picture of Sukkot is a reminder of the Garden of Eden.  Sukkot is Paradise Restored.

But it isn’t really restored, is it?  The feast lasts eight days.  By the time the feast is completed, the greenery has become brown and brittle.  Sukkot is a reminder not only of Paradise, but that we are not there yet.  There is more that needs to happen first.

This is why the prophet, Zechariah, declares that during the reign of the Messiah, all mankind will be required to observe this feast (Zechariah 14:16-19).  Jesus will already have returned in power and glory; He will have judged the earth.  But mankind’s time on earth isn’t finished.  The world will still be broken.  Yes, Jesus will be ruling and reigning and it will be a wonderful time of peace, but the end of the 1,000 years sees rebellion and war again.

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) will be a reminder that Eden is not yet restored.  But the pictures of the feast have presented themselves in very interesting ways since the wilderness.

Next Post: The Symbols of Sukkot

Return to Eden: Part 5 – The Conclusion of the Harvest

The harvest is over.  The work is nearly done.  Israel has spent the past four months working from sunup to sundown.  If they are to have enough food to provide for their needs over the next five months of autumn and winter, they had to have already gathered it.  And as night falls, all throughout the land, the sound of the ram’s horn – the shofar – is heard.  And everyone who honors the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, drops everything, puts on their white robe, and proceeds to the feast; to Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets.

This appointment with God is unique in a couple of ways.  First, very little is said in Scripture about how to observe it.  There aren’t any special sacrifices or anything like that.  They are simply told to blow the shofar and remember.  Rather strange.

Second, it is the only of the feasts that takes place at the start of the month.  All of the other feasts begin at least ten days after the new month begins. This is important because the new month on the Biblical calendar doesn’t begin on a set date.  Because the Biblical calendar is a lunar calendar, it is determined by the sighting of the new moon.  The lunar cycle is 29.52 days.  Israel was instructed that the new month would begin only when the first sliver of the new moon could be sighted from Jerusalem.  That means that the month could be either 29 or 30 days long.  It depended on when the new moon could be clearly seen.  In fact, there is some evidence that by the time of Jesus, an idiomatic expression had become synonymous with the Feast of Trumpets: it had begun to be called “the feast where no man knows the day or the hour.”

The meant that every Hebrew would have to have be prepared for the feast in advance.  The only warning that the feast had arrived was the blast of the trumpet.  When that was heard, they were to drop everything and observe this feast.

The parallels are obvious.  As we near the end of the harvest of souls, we await the trumpet call of God.  All work must be completed by that moment, as the harvest will then be complete.  We don’t know specifically when that trumpet is going to sound, but we know when we hear it that we will leave what we are doing and celebrate the harvest.  But first, we must take stock of what has been done.

Ten days following the Feast of Trumpets, all of Israel would observe what is considered the most holy day of the year: Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  It is the day where Israel would take stock of the harvest, to determine what had been gathered.  Would it be enough?  But even more importantly, it was the day where the nation as a whole, would be held accountable for its sins.  The High Priest would sacrifice the lamb for the sins of the nation.  If each individual had confessed their sin, the lamb’s death would atone for it.  If they had not, they would be expected to atone for it themselves.

At the end of the Harvest, each one of us will be held accountable for our sins.  If we have confessed our sins, the Lamb of God will atone for them.  If we have not, we will be judge for them.  And for those who have received atonement, our works will be judged.  What have we done during the harvest?  Have we gathered wood, hay and stubble that will be burned in the fire?  Or are our works gold, silver, and precious stones that will be refined?

These are the shadows of the next two feasts on God’s calendar.  We can see the shadows of prophecy in them.  But the final feast is what we’ve been building to.  It is when God restores the Kingdom.  It’s when we return to Eden.

Next Post: Paradise Restored

Return to Eden: Part 4 – The Renewal of the Covenant

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)

When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice.  What happened?  GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand.  When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free.  After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out.  And now, He was offering them a new life.

Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details.  Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times.  Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it.  But what exactly does that phrase mean?

An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God.  That’s what a priest does.  He goes before God on behalf of others.  And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests.  But something went terribly wrong.

They rejected God.  Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do.  But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history.  It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people.  And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing.  Here’s the background.

According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai.  It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people.  The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded.  It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.

And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.

As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”.  And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain?  Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.

By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages.  This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:

Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)

The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language.  Stop and read that again.

Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing.  The people feared what they saw.  In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them.  They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage.  And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.

Things went downhill from there.  When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him.  The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us.  And that’s the way Israel reacted.  As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God.  They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch.  They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshipped in Egypt.

And when Moses returned, his anger was justified.  He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  Exodus 32:18 ESV

So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint.  Fire.  Thunder.  Lightning.  The Voice of God.  The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world.  3,000 lives being lost in judgement.

Now fast forward around 1,500 years.  These pictures make another appearance.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV

Astonishing.

Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai are seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven.  As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind;  the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.

Only the reaction of the people is different this time.  Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it.  Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it.  Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.

You see, things were different because their hearts were different.  Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai.  Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.”  While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word.  It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon.  It is more accurately translated “renewed.”  This covenant wasn’t a new covenant.  It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai.  But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant.  The covenant was renewed.

Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out.  Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshipping the golden calf?  How many were killed on that Shavuot?  3,000.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  Acts 2:31 ESV

You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t.  That wasn’t an accident.  Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.

So let’s regroup here.  Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.

The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.”  It is more clearly translated “appointed time.”  It’s God’s appointments with us.  He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.

So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?

Next Post: The Conclusion of the Harvest

Return to Eden: Part 3 – Jesus’ First Coming

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  Matthew 27:50-53 ESV

If this is the moment of Jesus’ death, it’s a strange place to insert a discussion of His resurrection.  At the moment that the Messiah dies, Matthew notes that the preparation for Him to rise took place.

Most of us in the Western Church leave it there.  These are the facts: Jesus died.  An earthquake took place.  The veil was torn.  The graves were opened.  When Jesus rose, these graves also gave up their dead.  These risen bodies were seen by many in Jerusalem.  That’s all we need to know.  Just the facts, please.

But that’s not the way to see through the shadows, and into the face of God.   The Western Mind is obsessed with answering the question, “what”.  The Eastern Mind seeks to look beyond that; it seeks to answer, “why”.  So why did Matthew mention these events at this moment in his narrative?

We’ve already seen that the Passover shadowed the work of the Messiah on the cross.  That feast takes place on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar.  However, the Passover meal is eaten after sundown that evening, which according to the Biblical reckoning of time, begins the 15th day of the month.  This meal initiates a seven day celebration known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It reminds Israel that their release from slavery in Egypt was so sudden, that they were forced to eat bread that had not been given time to rise.  But later, leavening became symbolic of sin.  And when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb, He removed the sin from our lives.  He was placed in a tomb, and the Psalmist said that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)  The Feast of Unleavened Bread shadowed the removal of sin from our lives.

And then we come to the first day of the week following the Sabbath that occurs during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This day is called the Feast of First Fruits.  But the preparations for this feast actually began at sundown on Passover.  It is at that moment that the priests would go to the Mount of Olives, and ceremonially bind 10 sheaves of barley, without cutting or actually harvesting it.  This was called “marking the sheaves.”  Then, at the beginning of the first day of the week (which takes place at sundown), the priests would return to the sheaves and in a great ceremony, harvest those first fruits, take the barley into the Temple and grind it into wheat, and prepare loaves of bread that would, the next morning, be ceremonially waved before God in the Temple, as the High Priest shouted, “If God is faithful to bring us the first fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

This is why Matthew chose to make mention of the graves being opened at the moment of Jesus’ death.  And why he also made it clear to his readers that the dead didn’t rise until Jesus did.  He was revealing the shadow of the Feast of First Fruits.

In addition to being the place where the priests would go to bind the sheaves for the offering at the First Fruits, the Mount of Olives is a major cemetery.  It was in Jesus day as well.  It was where some of the most famous and notable Hebrews had been buried.  So when the priests were going out to “mark” the sheaves for the offering, the graves of many were “marked” as well.  And at the moment when the priests harvested these first fruits, Jesus and these others were raised from the dead, as our eternal High Priest shouted to eternity, “If God has been faithful to bring us the First Fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

But the shadows of Jesus first coming don’t end there.  There is one more feast in the spring that Israel was commanded to observe.  And the pictures in it are nothing less than stunning.  In Hebrew it is called “Shavuot.”  You know it today as Pentecost.

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