Living in the Shadow of the Cross: How Jesus’ Ministry Brings Life

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Living in the Shadow of the Cross: How Jesus’ Ministry Brings Life

The biblical books of Hebrews and Revelation give ample content on the ministry of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. Having said that, it may seem ironic to suggest looking at the Hebrew Bible (OT) to uncover some practical implications of a sanctuary focused life. Yet, the title of this short essay proposes a double entendre, in Exodus 25:8 the earthly sanctuary is called a pattern or a copy of the original. So, the Old Testament looks forward and testifies of the experience God intends for us who are living in the shadow, the cross of Jesus casts, as we seek to experience its benefits.

The Psalter, being among other things Israel’s sanctuary hymnbook, gives Christians insight on a life fully engaged in the worship of God as He brings about His salvific plan through the Israelite cult. A constant theme that continually emerges in the Psalter connected to God’s mediating activity is that of His glory. The gift of salvation generated such intense and unmeasured praise and devotion because it demonstrated God’s glory. Hopefully, this short reflection will give us something to think and pray about as we contemplate Jesus’ High Priestly ministry for us (cf. Heb 7–10).

God’s Glory in the Psalms

A short survey of how glory is used in the Psalter can help us to recognize in our own walk of faith how Jesus’ glory as our High Priest is to be understood and experienced. The goal of this search is to have a richer and deeper faith as well as living a life of praise that we can share with others. The glory of the Lord is active, and His presence is typically connected to the sanctuary system (Pss 104:31; 138:5). For Israel, there was a physical reminder of the mediating work of God on their behalf. Yet, Paul states that this was just a shadow, a copy of the original (Heb 9:23, 24). So, the experience that we have should be “better” it is based on better promises, covenant, sacrifice, etc. As we briefly survey the Psalter we can observe several descriptive facets of God’s character that the Psalmists point out that should be our experience on an even greater scale.

The Psalmists describe God’s nature. He is the glorious King (Ps 24:7–10) and is known by His glorious name (Ps 72:19). The spatial focus of the Psalmists thoughts about His glory was above the heavens (Ps 113:4), in the heavenly temple (Ps 29:9); and had a direct impact on His faithful worshippers on the earth in a worshipful mindset (Pss 26:8; 63:2). In other words, the psalmist’s worldview was shaped by the reality of God’s glory. For Israel, God’s salvific activity from His heavenly temple was not just theology or ideology. In their daily experience, it was active and captivated their thoughts about a variety of topics including creation (Pss 19:1; 97:6), nature (Ps 29:3), and their very person (Pss 138:5; 145:5, 11–12). Ultimately it impacted their witness and the need for the proclamation of God’s glory in a worship setting. God’s glory needed to be shown (Pss 57:6, 11; 72:19; 79:9; 85:9; 102:15, 16; 104:31; 108:5; 115:1) and they needed to proclaim it (Ps 96:3) because there was and is a need for human beings to give God glory (Pss 29:1, 2; 66:2; 96:7, 8).

In the book of Psalms there are “glory” passages in multiple psalms that each give a temple reference with a sanctuary theme (Pss 3:4; 4:3; 7:6; 8:6; 16:9; 19:2; 21:6; 24:7ff; 26:8; 29:1ff, 9; 30:13; 49:17f; 57:6, 9, 12; 62:8; 63:3; 66:2; 72:19; 73:24; 79:9; 84:12). I encourage the reader to look each of these up to get a fuller sense of God’s glory in a worship context. The focus of each psalm describing some aspect of God’s glory addresses the same themes that were evident in the main Old Testament sanctuary scenes that allude to some aspect of God’s glory (cf. Exodus 19, 24, 40; 1 Kgs 8). The reasons these themes are so important are many, but for our purposes, two are highlighted. First and most importantly is our own walk with God. This makes it have an existential appeal to those who do not know of the gospel. Secondly, it serves to delineate a biblical worldview as well as an antidote to wrong thinking. There are more themes than those pointed out here, but for the sake of space, clarity and cogency the three I will focus on here are creation, salvation, and judgment. These three are consistently interconnected and the main context of worship in the Psalms. God, humanity, and His world are the focus of these themes.

 

God’s Glory in the Temple

Before briefly looking at Creation, Salvation, and Judgment and how they are interconnected it is imperative to understand the activity born out in God’s heavenly sanctuary ministry. The first point that we as modern day Christians need to keep in mind is the sanctity of where Jesus is doing His work. There are over six different designations that describe God’s holy dwelling. The activity there is significant because it reflects the very character of God. This is pivotal because when we talk about Jesus’ High Priestly work we need to be impressed upon that we are not just sharing doctrine; we are sharing and experiencing something that is holy. Holiness is part and parcel an expression of God’s glory.

As we see God’s glory in the Psalter associated with sacred space we can move further on to see its connection with sacred activity. That activity included atonement (Pss 49:8; 79:9), vindication (Pss 7:9, 12; 26:1; 72:4; 96:13), testing (Pss 7:10; 11:4f; 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; 81:8; 95:9; 139:23), judgment (Pss 7:9; 72:2; 96:10), salvation (noun form— Pss 3:3, 9; 62:2f, 7; 96:2; 106:4; 149:4; verbal form— Pss 3:8; 7:2, 11; 24:5; 57:4; 62:8; 72:4, 13; 79:9; 85:5, 8, 10; 106:8, 10, 21, 47; 108:7; 138:7; 145:19), deliverance (Pss 7:2f; 72:12; 79:9; 97:10; 106:43), and righteousness (Pss 4:6; 15:2; 85:11, 14; 97:2). Even from such a small sample we can see the heavenly ministry of Jesus has a wide variety of implications for our daily experience.

God’s glory is His character of holiness making every space He inhabited holy (Exod 3:1-14), as well as the activity He did on behalf of His children. In addition to this is God’s multiple roles which make His character and activity even more efficacious for us. Jesus is not only our High Priest, but He is also our Messiah, our King, our Sacrifice, our Wisdom, etc. This teaches us that God’s glory is expressed in our lives on so many levels and in so many ways.

God’s Glory in Creation

Heaven is the place where the heavenly temple is the locus of the glory of God manifested in His creative works. The common ‘general revelation’ text, Psalm 19 alerts us that the creative acts of God reveal His glory. One chiasm in the passage clearly states that glory of God is the work of His hands.

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This passage is a useful commentary on the creation and how we ought to relate to it. The notion of God’s glory being revealed in creation is connected with the original Edenic tabernacle/temple. Paul emphasizes Jesus’ creative role (Col 1:15). We should make the connection between Jesus as our Mediator and our Creator. This space is holy because God’s presence is there and His power is manifested there. The sustaining nature of the glory of God is evident. The verbs declare and proclaim are expressive of the continuous revelation of God’s creative work, and could be translated ―keep on declaring . . ., keep on proclaiming.

Psalm 104:31 also points to creation. The closing stanza of the psalm expresses the continuing confidence in the glory of the LORD (v. 31; cf. Ps 3:3) and in the awesome power of a God who is known to rejoice in his works, words which take us back to the creation hymn in Genesis with its concluding verdict, ―God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good. (Gen. 1:31).[1]

Psalm 97 points to another aspect of the heavens and the glory of God. The reign of God is the central theme of this psalm. Vs. 1 is a summary statement that God reigns, vss 2–5 give the imagery of the impact of God’s kingly presence, and vss 6–7 focus on the human response to God’s revelatory activities as King. The glory that the people see is contrasted with idols, thus connecting the efficacy of God’s glory in our lives with an ethics of creation. The word idol points back to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:4 where humankind is forbidden to make idols. Interestingly in the Old Testament idolatry is often seen as the attempt to replicate the creaturely aspects of nature.

So, two things are pointed here that have implications for our walk with Jesus as our Heavenly Mediator. First, creation is the landscape where Jesus’ holiness is to be revealed. If we truly believe that this world is an expression, however marred, of Jesus’ creative and eventually restorative work that will impact how we interact with all of God’s creation. Jesus’ work is for all creation, not just a particular church. Second, Jesus reigns and in identifiable ways. As Christian witnesses, we ought not be afraid to make it clear the ways in which Jesus reigns. The sacred-secular divide that exists in many minds does not exist in reality according to the Bible. How can we share our faith if we do not truly know that Jesus reigns?

God’s Glory in Salvation

Psalm 3 is a lament, a cry for salvation that comes from the experience of injustice. We don’t tend to think about Jesus’ ministry in this way, yet the Word of God makes it clear that this is how the Old Testament saints understood God’s work in His heavenly temple. The heading alerts the reader to the original context of the psalm (2 Sam 16–18). Vss 3–4 deal with God’s temple and His activity. David contemplates his situation initially as hopeless but reflecting on his King and Judge he had a change of perspective and heart. He makes a triad confession of trust that answer the triad of his enemy’s acts. The intensity of the enemy’s activity mounts. First, David reflects on the number of his foes, then their actions, and thirdly their words. His mind turns to the only help he has. God is a shield for him, his glory, and the one who lifts his head. God protects him from the attacks of the enemy. This should give us confidence in Jesus who ministers His blood on our behalf to protect us from the assaults of Satan, no matter what form they come in.

 

God gives David his standing, though to all looking on he has been shamed and disgraced and maybe even physically defeated. The imagery of a shield as God’s protection and the restoration from disgrace as the lifting of one’s head is connected to God himself as David’s glory. For David and hopefully for us the equivalence of God and glory has profound implications. Since glory here is the presence and sustaining power of God, David is making more than just abstract postulations. In facing the vicissitudes of life, we have One who is ministering to restore us not only spiritually but in the practical experiences of life. To David, God is involved in the very concrete matters of his life. The activity of God as a shield, glory, and restorer comes from a place, a specific place according to David. David cried to God, and God responds from His holy hill. By looking to Jesus as our glory (Rev 1:6; 5:12, 13), we too can daily have confidence in His salvific work on our behalf. This is surely the reason for our praise! By looking to Jesus in heaven, we can have the assurance of His watchful care over us.

 

God’s Glory in Judgment

Judgment for the saints was nothing to fear because it was primarily seen as a time of God’s vindication. Regarding its application, it can refer to honor, integrity, reputation, splendor, and distinction when referring to man. When referring to God it carries a breadth of meaning including but not limited to His presence, character, might, salvation, judgments, acts, essence, protection, providence, rulership, kingship, love, mercy, guidance, and care. It has been shown that His glory is integrally connected to His sanctuary and throne. In Christian terms, the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection were the ultimate revelation of the glory of Yahweh (John 1:14; 2:11; Heb 1:1-3). The cultic language in the New Testament with its references to Jesus’ body being the temple (John 2:21), the sacrificial Lamb (John 1:29), the light (John 8:12), the bread (John 6:36), the door (John 10:7), etc., is not coincidental. That Jesus came to reveal the glory of Yahweh (John 17:1-5) is consistent with the theological, historical, and eschatological hope set forth in the Psalter.

 

Regarding its impact on the experience of vindicatory judgment, Ezekiel’s message of a restored sanctuary with the glory of Yahweh returning would have been concretized in the message of God’s glory. Revelation’s use of a sanctuary structure, imagery and language affirms the message is the same. From Eden, the glory of God in a tabernacle/temple setting was established. So, what the psalmist wrote about the glory of God was further captured when the psalms were put together into five books. Thus, theologically the message is the same, it just takes on a fresh application considering Jesus’ antitypical fulfillment of all the Old Testament sanctuary hopes.

 

Conclusion

From Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21 & 22, we have this picture of perfection created and perfection restored. But in between these four chapters we have a broad and profound history of sin and salvation. Every question from a human standpoint, in answer to man’s deep need and dilemma, is dealt with by God’s mediating presence in the world. The breach that has been caused by sin, and that has it seems almost obliterated the image of God in man, is to be restored through the gift and grace of God expressed in the High Priestly ministry of Jesus. More than just an event remembered and celebrated from 1844, God wants us to experience His glory in its multifaceted contours in the landscape of our lives.

 

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Notes.

[1] Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Edinburgh: W.B. Eerdmans; Handsel Press, 1998), 341.

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Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.