Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40. It’s starts with these verses,
Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.
So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church. This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40. We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet. And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod?
Here is a traditional ephod:
So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code? If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood. And ephods.
But let’s start with this: Where does God live?
When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up. As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him. Is He close? Is He far away? Where does God live? And what does He look like if I see Him?
Does He look like George Burns? Morgan Freeman? And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?
Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests. There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear. We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses. Turn your bibles to Exodus 38. Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –
Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high. He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze. He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up. He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles. He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze. He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.
This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was? Right, “What is an ephod?”). My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?” That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches. The final altar looked like this:
And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near.
Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times. Now we wear Astros gear. I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods? That would be perfect.
Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,
Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen. Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman. They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends. The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.
And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.
What’s the purpose for all these instructions? The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place. The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”
But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book. Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book. And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin? How did it end?” I dunno. I’m only reading the middle part of the book.
I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation. Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today. Shouldn’t take too long, right? So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1.
II. Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study. But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.
When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect. How could it be otherwise? There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God. God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect. And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters. And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation. And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden. And there was still no sin. In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment. But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. And sin entered the world.
This is important an important change in our relationship with God. Sin entered the world. You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along. But God is not like you and me. God is holy and pure and good. He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it. How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.” No, God promises to make all things right.
After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man? God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.
III. Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple
But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people. How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process? In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock.
I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it. The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.
So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness. So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord. All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin. The dress code was mandatory. Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea. God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,
They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.
So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem. Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death. In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –
“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn. You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.
That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles. And there’s meaning in the robe;
- The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
- The gold represents, well, gold. It’s pure and it’s rare.
- The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood. And this is important to the sacrificial system. Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
- The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
- The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord. One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.
Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body. I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true. I checked on Snopes.com. Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/ ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ. Dr. Nunnally says,
“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”
I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it. So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere.
I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –
It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.
But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,
“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 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. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.
These are two different places, even though the words are similar. The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies. The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites. Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.
That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –
- God desires a relationship with His people
- God is holy
- Man is sinful.
- The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
- The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.
The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.
IV. The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?
Where is our temple today? Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?
The answer is Jesus. Jesus changed everything.
When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins. It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people. The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,
Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.
But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,
Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.
What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples. These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated. But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many. This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,
nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future. His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross. And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice. It is finished; sin has been defeated.
If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil. But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary. Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.
So what about the temple? The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments?
Jesus, again, changed everything.
For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out. But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary. After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
The veil was torn by God from the top. Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies? Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.
In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same. A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.
But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary. Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior. Jesus is our permanent sacrifice. So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed? We don’t.
In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned. And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt. For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple. 1 Corinthians 6:19 –
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Jesus changed everything. We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit. The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.
V. The Temple Yet to Come
But this isn’t the way the story ends. What about any future temple? Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.
There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly. The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago. Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God. Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple. While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God. Why would we need sacrifices to begin again? This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man. And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.
But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future. John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears. That’s something to look forward to.
I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements. We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil. We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.
And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today. There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us. And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.
In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live. God dwells inside each one of us.
Jesus changed everything.
To God be the glory. Amen.