A Vision of God’s Glory

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. – Ezekiel 1:4-14 ESV

It was while Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon, living near the Kebar River, that God came to visit him in a vision. Little did Ezekiel know that his role as a priest was about to be expanded to that of a prophet. A long way from home and far from the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Ezekiel was going to receive a vision and a commission from God Almighty.

Ezekiel would later describe this life-changing event in very intimate terms.

the hand of the Lord was upon me there – Ezekiel 3:22 ESV

…the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. – Ezekiel 8:1 ESV

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel in an unforgettable and virtually indescribable manner. This was no burning bush encounter like the one Moses experienced in the wilderness. Ezekiel was given a much more intense and comprehensive glimpse of the Almighty, and it began with a vision of what the dumbfounded prophet describes as four living beings.

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings – Ezekiel 1:4-5 NLT

One can only imagine Ezekiel’s shock as he witnessed these strange-looking apparitions appear before his eyes. The text does not reveal whether this bizarre vision took place while Ezekiel was awake or came upon him in the form of a dream. But the strange and surrealistic nature of what Ezekiel saw must have left him shaken and more than a bit scared.

A powerful thunderstorm suddenly appeared on the northern horizon, accompanied by lightning and brilliant light. This was no ordinary storm and that face was quickly confirmed by the sudden appearance of the four creatures. Ezekiel’s attempt to describe these bizarre beings reveals just extraordinary they were. He had never seen anything like them before and was at a loss as to how to describe them. To his eyes, they were an other-worldly amalgam of human and animal characteristics that were beyond belief.

At first glance, they appeared to be human but, upon closer examination, Ezekiel saw that they each had one head with four faces. “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT).

Ezekiel is given no explanation for this disturbing combination of facial features. But it would seem that each was meant to represent something significant about God’s creative order. Man was meant to be the apex of all the living creatures God created. The lion was the king of the beasts, the most powerful of all the wild animals. The ox was the most valuable of all the domesticated animals, a creature equipped with great strength and intelligence. And the eagle was considered the king of the skies, a majestic bird of prey whose keen vision and powerful talons made him a mighty hunter.

According to Ezekiel, these four-faced creatures each had four wings and human hands. They used one pair of wings to cover their bodies, while the other pair of wings were fully extended with the tips touching the wings of the creature next to them. It seems that the four creatures formed a square so that “each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around” (Ezekiel 1:9 NLT).

But even as mesmerizing as these creatures were, Ezekiel’s attention was drawn to something that appeared in the midst of them.

In the middle of the living beings was something like burning coals of fire or like torches. It moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. – Ezekiel 1:13 NET

It is difficult to ascertain whether this light emanated from the creatures themselves or from something else. But it seems as if the vision was meant to draw Ezekiel’s eye ever higher, exposing him to something far more significant than the creatures themselves. As fantastic as these heavenly beings appeared to be, they were not the focus of the vision. They were simply a preview of what was to come.

“These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

God was setting the stage for what was to come. These divine apparitions were meant to get the prophet’s attention and prepare him to receive the message God had in store for him. God could have just appeared to Ezekiel, but He chose to preface His appearance with a supernatural outpouring of signs that accentuated His power and glory. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel was being given a veritable light show designed to remind him of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.

The God of Israel was manifesting His presence in the midst of His exiled people. He had not forgotten or forsaken them. He had always promised to remember and redeem them, and He had communicated those intentions to the prophet Jeremiah.

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

As Ezekiel’s vision will make clear, God was still on His throne and fully in command of all that was going on in the world. The captivity of His chosen people had been part of His plan, and their future redemption would also come about just as He had promised. Ezekiel was being given a much-needed reminder of God’s glory and greatness so that he might receive, believe, and deliver God’s message for the helpless and hopeless living in exile in Babylon.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Guided By God

15 On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 17 And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18 At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. 21 And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. 22 Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. 23 At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. Numbers 9:15-23 ESV

When the people of Israel had been released from their captivity in Egypt, they had begun their journey to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Moses. But they had also been blessed by the visible manifestation of God’s presence.

But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.…And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:18, 20-21 ESV

This miraculous demonstration of God’s presence and power was intended to bring the Israelites comfort and security. It was visible proof that He was not only among them but was guiding and directing their every step. Just before God parted the Red Sea so that His people could cross over on dry ground, He had placed Himself between the camps of the Israelites and the Egyptians.

The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 NLT

God protected His people. He illuminated their lives with His glory and assured them that He would always go before them, no matter what they faced along the way.

Years later, Moses would set up a tent on the outskirts of the Israelite camp, where he would meet with God. This “tent of meeting” was a place of communion and communication between God and His chosen leader.

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. – Exodus 33:9-11 ESV

Once the people had finished fabricating all the pieces that would form the new tabernacle, they dedicated it to God. This new facility would become the new tent of meeting and God confirmed His approval of this “house” by consecrating it by the manifestation of His divine glory.

On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. – Numbers 9:15-16 ESV

Every time the people of Israel stopped for an extended period of time, they set up their camp with the tabernacle strategically located in the center. The 12 tribes would then pitch their own tents around the circumference of God’s dwelling place. And as long as the pillar of cloud or fire remained above the tabernacle, the people would know that they were to remain in that spot until further notice.

Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. – Numbers 9:17-18 NLT

Here in chapter 9, God reveals how He chose to lead the people of Israel. He appeared to them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence would hover over His dwelling, signifying that He was with them. As long as the cloud or pillar of fire was there, they were to remain right where they were. But as soon as the cloud or fire moved, they were to pack up and head out. It didn’t matter if the cloud was there for two days, a month, or a solid year. As long as God’s presence remained, they stayed put. It was a pretty simple system. Or so it would seem.

But think about it. They were at the complete mercy of God. Sure, there was comfort in the fact that they could look up at any moment, day or night, and see the manifest presence of God, but they also had to be prepared at any moment, day or night, to pack up and head out – no matter how comfortable they may have felt in their present location.

And setting up camp would not have been an easy or enviable task. The tabernacle alone would have been a chore to reconstruct every time they relocated. And if they got to a site and spent all night getting everything arranged, and then God’s presence moved, they were expected to pack up everything and follow.

This was about obedience; not their comfort or convenience. The lifting up of the cloud was intended to be a clear sign from God that it was time to break camp and follow His lead to the next destination. The Israelites didn’t need to ask what God’s will might be, they simply had to keep their eyes on the cloud and follow it wherever it led.

The truth is, that most of us already know God’s will for our lives, but we choose to ignore or avoid it. The real issue is that we don’t want to obey it because we find it inconvenient or impractical. I think there had to be times when the people became impatient with God, wondering why He hovered over one spot for so long. They wanted to get to the promised land, but for some reason, He had decided to stop in some obscure spot in the wilderness. And as long as He stayed, they were stymied. They couldn’t move without Him.

There were probably other times they got comfortable right where they were, only to have God’s presence pick up and move. This had to have frustrated them as they wondered, wondering why God kept disrupting their comfort with His constant wanderings. But when God moved, they were to follow – obediently.

While the Bible doesn’t make it clear, there had to be some kind of system established for the people to know when God was moving. So they probably had sentinels set up to watch the sky over the tabernacle 24/7. Someone had to warn the people when it moved, so they could react. The people were kept in a constant state of uncertainty, never knowing from one day to the next what their next move might be or when it might occur. So, they were obliged to hold themselves in constant readiness to march on a very short warning. But isn’t that how we should live our lives? Constantly waiting on God. Waiting on Him to direct our paths. Looking for His presence in our lives and seeking to know when He is moving and where He might be leading us.

God’s will is that we seek Him. God’s will is that we live for Him. God’s will is that we obey Him. We are to look for His movements in our lives. We are to seek His direction by watching Him. Today, rather than a tabernacle, we have His Word. We can spend time in it, seeking to meet with Him and waiting for Him to direct our paths. But too often, we get comfortable and find His will for our lives inconvenient, so we ignore it. We hear Him speaking. We see the handwriting on the wall, but we refuse to do what it says. The Scriptures speak to us, but we tend to rationalize away what they have to say, deeming their content as impractical or impossible. But God calls His people to obedience. He doesn’t ask us to obey when it’s convenient or pleasant. He expects us to move when He moves – day or night – willingly, obediently, faithfully.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Image Bearers

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:24-28 ESV

God’s timeline for creation was unfolding according to His perfect plan. He was methodically replacing the former chaos and darkness with order and light. And every phase of the divine process was well-orchestrated and designed to prepare the way for what would be His crowning achievement: The creation of man.

God had created the land on which man would exist. He had prepared the oxygen-rich “heaven” or lower atmosphere that would be necessary for man’s survival. There was the sun and moon to determine the days and seasons of man’s life. The sun’s distance from the earth was perfectly planned so that the ambient temperature on earth would be conducive to human life. And God had even created a protective barrier in the upper atmosphere that would prevent the harmful rays of the sun from doing irreparable damage to His creation. And to top it all off, God had provided an abundant source of food and nourishment in the form of fruit-bearing trees and vegetation.

There was nothing haphazard or random about the creation. It was all well-ordered and highly intentional. God was preparing the perfect environment in which to place the crown jewel of His creation plan. The all-knowing God of the universe was not making this up as He went along, but it was all part of the well-designed strategy He had developed long before He had initiated the creation process.

Once again, Moses reveals a deliberate order to the events of creation. This next phase involves God’s creation of “living creatures” (Genesis 1:24 ESV). The Hebrew word is נֶפֶשׁ (nep̄eš), and while it can be translated as “soul,” the surrounding context dictates that it refers to animal life. Moses describes three different kinds of creatures: “livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth” (Genesis 1:24 ESV). Livestock refers to what will come to be known as domesticated animals such as cattle or sheep. Creeping things describes all those creatures whose physical stature place them close to the ground. This will include everything from reptiles to rodents. The final category, beasts of the earth, appears to indicate all remaining species of wild animals. 

While the Hebrew word, נֶפֶשׁ (nep̄eš), can be translated as “soul,” it will soon become readily apparent that these “living creatures” are meant to be viewed as quite different from humanity. As Moses recorded the unfolding nature of God’s creation process, he kept his audience in mind. He wanted the people of Israel to understand the unprecedented role that they, as human beings, played in God’s plan for the universe. They were not just another form of animal. The living creatures, while conscious and capable of thought, were not made in the image of God.

Moses is very deliberate and specific when he writes, “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind” (Genesis 1:25 ESV). These creatures, while made by God, did not bear the image of God. They were of a completely different “kind.” They bear God’s handiwork but do not share in His character or nature. And their creation is followed by an important and relationship-defining statement from God.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” – Genesis 1:26 ESV

Here, for the first time in Moses’ narrative, we find God referring to Himself in the plural. Over the centuries, this verse has been used to defend the concept of the Trinity or God in three persons. While this verse does not explicitly teach a trinitarian doctrine, it does support the concept. And if this verse is viewed in relationship with other passages, it is easy to see the plurality of the Godhead displayed. In the opening lines of his gospel account, John declares that Jesus played a key role in the creation.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone. – John 1:1-4 NLT

The Godhead, consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, enjoyed a unique three-in-one relationship that was totally non-replicable and inexplicable. Yet, man was created in such a way that he could emulate, albeit imperfectly, this divine co-dependency and relational intimacy. Humanity would be given the unique ability to mirror the Godhead and experience the joy of fellowship and the gift of God’s blessing. Man was to be a decidedly different form of “living creature.”

“First, God’s deliberation shows that he has decided to create man differently from any of the other creatures—in his image and likeness. God and man share a likeness that is not shared by other creatures. This apparently means that a relationship of close fellowship can exist between God and man that is unlike the relationship of God with the rest of his creation. What more important fact about God and man would be necessary if the covenant at Sinai were, in fact, to be a real relationship? Remove this and the covenant is unthinkable.” – John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in GenesisNumbers, vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Another key difference between man and the rest of creation was his dominion role. God clearly articulated the unique role that man would play in His newly created universe.

“…let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26 ESV

The Hebrew word is רָדָה (rāḏâ), and it conveys the idea of rule or authority. God was delegating His sovereign authority to mankind. The King and creator of the universe was passing on to humanity a responsibility to care for all that He had made.

God’s purpose in giving humankind his image is that they might rule the created order on behalf of the heavenly king and his royal court. So the divine image, however it is defined, gives humankind the capacity and/or authority to rule over creation. – NET Bible Study Notes

Once again, it must be remembered that this “history” of the creation was intended as a much-needed reminder for God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Moses was trying to help them understand the unique role entrusted to humanity by God. From the very “beginning,” mankind was to have acted as God’s vice-regents, bearing His image and carrying out His divine will for His creation. They were to have been stewards over all that He had made. And, as God’s precious possession, the Israelites had an even greater responsibility to reflect God’s glory, power, and authority through their lives.

Moses was reminding his fellow Israelites that they had a two-fold responsibility to act as God’s faithful stewards. They, along with all humanity, had been created with one purpose in mind: To rule as God’s vice-regents over His creation. But as the heirs of the promises made to Abraham and the recipients of God’s law, they had the extra-added responsibility to live in keeping with His divine will as His children. This entire retelling of the creation story was meant to remind them of their unique status as the apex of God’s creative order and to encourage them to do what the first man and woman failed to do.

God had originally created a pair of individuals who would bear His image, share in His royal rule, and spread His glory across the face of the earth.

God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

God created this first couple, blessed them, and then reiterated the divine mandate He had assigned to them.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

They were to procreate, making more of their kind – those made in the image of God. In obeying this command, they would spread the glory of God throughout the earth. They would populate the planet with more godly image-bearers and, in so doing, the invisible God would be made visible throughout the earth. They would reflect His nature and demonstrate His goodness and glory through their daily lives and their interactions with one another and the rest of His creation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God of the Past, Present, and Future

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:6-9 ESV

God has provided much-needed words of encouragement to His people.

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:4 ESV

And He has reminded them that because He is a covenant-keeping God, they have no reason to fear. His presence among them is assured because He promised to never leave them or forsake them. God referred to the covenant He had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had received the Ten Commandments from God, the divine code of conduct that was to regulate their behavior and determine their ongoing relationship with Him. God had set them apart as His own special possession, but He required that they conduct themselves in a manner that was in keeping with their status as His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. He expected them to keep the covenant agreement He was making with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, but that relationship required that they remain faithful to the covenant and obedient to live by all of its commands.

On the day that God had communicated His covenant commands to Moses, He had revealed Himself to the people in a formidable and unforgettable manner.

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. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

And this dramatic display of God’s glory had left the people in a state of fear.

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 20:18-19 ESV

But Moses had assured them that God’s glorious display of His power and might was actually for their good.

“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” – Exodus 20:20 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people live sinless lives, in keeping with His commands. But in order to receive His covenant blessings, they would be required to keep His covenant commands. Now, centuries later, the people of Judah were hearing from God once again. They had returned to the land of promise after nearly 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a punishment meted out by God because of their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. He had graciously kept His promise to restore them to the land and now He was reiterating His commitment to be their God and dwell among them. And God uses imagery that was meant to remind His people of Mount Sinai.

Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. – Haggai 2:6 ESV

Their ancestors had been given a sight and sound show intended to reveal the majesty and power of God Almighty.

…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. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

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 – Exodus 20:18 ESV

God was promising to reveal Himself with such power and might that it would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. This dynamic imagery concerning God’s power can be found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. King David put the cosmic significance of God’s power in poetic terms.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. – Psalm 68:7-8 ESV

Asaph echoed David’s words in his own psalm.

When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:6-18 ESV

In Haggai 2:6-9, God is describing a coming day when the people of Israel will once again experience a powerful display of God’s glory. He will reveal Himself in a supernatural, earth-shaking demonstration of never-before-seen power and might. The prophets had spoken of a great day to come when God would shake the heavens.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger. – Isaiah 13:13 ESV

All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. – Ezekiel 38:20 NLT

All of this imagery points to a future day when God will bring about a divine intervention of global and cosmic proportions. His Son will return to earth again and bring about the culmination of the divine plan for the redemption of all things. The author of Hebrews was quoting Haggai 2:6 when he wrote:

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26-27 ESV

God is going to do far more than simply shake the heavens and earth. He is going to destroy and remake them. The prophet Isaiah referred to this great day when he recorded the following promise from God:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness. – Isaiah 65:17-18 ESV

And centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of this coming day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

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 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. 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 21:1-4 ESV

Haggai is recording a promise from God that spans the centuries and looks far into the future when God will bring about the final phase of His grand redemptive plan for mankind and all creation. Yes, He wanted the people to complete their task of rebuilding the temple. But He also wanted them to understand that their faithfulness to do so was to be based on His faithfulness to fulfill all that He had promised to do. God had far more in mind than they could have ever imagined or believed. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was but one chapter in the divine narrative God had in store for His chosen people. Their ongoing existence was guaranteed because God had great plans for them. It would be through His chosen people that the Chosen One would come. His Son would be born a descendant of Abraham and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The Son of God would be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In His first advent, Jesus offered His life as a ransom for many. But in His second coming, He will as King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule and reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And in that day, a new temple will exist that will far outshine the glory of the structure that Solomon had built. And God provides His guarantee of this future reality.

“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9 ESV

The people of Haggai’s day had a job to do. They had a role to play. It was their responsibility to rebuild the temple. That’s why God commanded them, “Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4 ESV). They were to be obedient and complete the task assigned to them by God, knowing that He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made concerning their present and the future.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Promise of God’s Presence

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. Haggai 1:12-15 ESV

It seems that once the people realized that the meager harvests, financial troubles, and lack of sustenance they were suffering were a punishment from the hand of God, they decided to heed the words of Haggai. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai had pointed out the disastrous nature of their current conditions.

“You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:6 NLT

Haggie let them know that their suffering had been brought on them by God.

You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

And he had delivered God’s message that more trouble was on the horizon.

I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:11 NLT

And if they harbored any doubts or questions about the cause of their suffering, God had made it painfully clear.

“Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. – Haggai 1:9-10 NLT

They were guilty and stood condemned before God. But what makes this whole situation so interesting was that the very temple they had failed to rebuild was the one place they could have turned for divine intervention and assistance. When Solomon had celebrated the opening of the original temple centuries earlier, he had included the following line in his prayer of dedication:

“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars… and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. – 1 Kings 8:37-39 NLT

But there was no temple because the people had refused to carry out the commands of God and finish its construction. Sixteen years earlier they had laid the foundation, but the construction site had remained dormant since that time. Not a single stone was put into place. No lumber had been harvested or milled. But now, because of the words spoken by Haggai, the people were suddenly stirred into action. From the governmental and religious leaders to the lowliest peasant, everyone decided to obey the voice of the Lord.

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. – Haggai 1:12 ESV

Haggai uses the term “remnant” to refer to the people of Judah. This was the very same word that the prophet Isaiah used when foretelling of God’s pending judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians and His gracious plan to allow some of them to return to the land.

A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:21-22 ESV

Isaiah used the Hebrew word, שְׁאָר (šᵊ’ār), which is derived from another Hebrew word that refers to “that which is left, left over, or left behind.” That word, שְׁאֵרִית (šᵊ’ērîṯ) is the one that Haggai used. It carries the idea of “that which is left or remaining.” It’s not just a numerical designation, indicating a smaller group of individuals, but it is also a way of conveying that those who returned had been set apart by God for a special purpose. When King Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return, the vast majority of them decided to remain in Persia rather than make the arduous journey back to Judah. They had become acclimated to their lives in Babylon and had no desire to suffer the hardships that would accompany a return to the land.

But a remnant had decided to take the risk and go back to the land of promise. Yet, because of their disobedience, they found the prospects of their return to be anything but promising. And when this “whole remnant of God’s people began to obey the message from the Lord their God” (Haggai 1:12 NLT), their corporate commitment to obey was met with an encouraging message from God.

“I am with you, says the Lord!” – Haggai 1:13 NLT

These words were meant to be a reminder of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel when Solomon had finished the construction of the temple.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

God had shut up the heavens and withheld the rain. Now it was time for the people, who were called by His name, to humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways. The temple lay in ruins, but God wanted His people to know that He was with them. His house was may have been non-existent but had not precluded His power or presence. He was among them and ready to act on behalf of them. All they needed to do was repent and return to Him.

God had never truly left them. And while the temple may have been nothing more than a pile of dust-covered rubble, their God remained powerful, ever-present, and ready to act on their behalf. They could count on God.

All the way back to when the people were preparing to enter the land of promise for the first time, Moses had told them, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV). And centuries later, King David would echo those words when he challenged his young son, Solomon, to build a house for God

Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

And when Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s house, he had finished his prayer of dedication with the following benediction.

The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 ESV

God had been with them when they had entered the land of promise for the very first time. God had been with King David, helping him establish Israel as one of the mightiest nations on earth. And God had been with Solomon, blessing him with great wisdom and wealth, and providing him with a period of peace and prosperity in which he was able to complete the construction of the temple. Now, centuries later, God was letting His people know that He was still with them. But as always, God was looking for humble obedience from His chosen people. He had graciously allowed a remnant to remain so that His will might be done. He was far from done with His people and He had great things in store for them because He was going to accomplish great things through them.

And stirred by the words of Haggai and the promise of God’s presence, “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” ( Haggai 1:14 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Giving God What Is Rightfully His

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:19-26 ESV

While some of Jesus’ parables left the crowds scratching their heads in confusion, this was not one of them. Its meaning was far from hidden or obscured. And Luke indicates that the scribes and the chief priests understood that they had been portrayed as the villains in His story. The only thing that kept them from arresting Jesus right on the spot was their fear of the people. They knew they would have a riot on their hands if they so much as touched Jesus. So, they decided to bide their time, waiting for a better opportunity to catch Jesus saying or doing something that would justify His arrest.

As they had done on so many other occasions, the religious leaders sent some of their own to spy on Jesus. These men were instructed to blend in with the crowds by pretending to be sincere followers of Jesus. Luke doesn’t reveal whether they ditched their clerical robes in order to disguise their identities, but it seems likely that they did what they could to fit in with the rest of the people who flocked around Jesus. Of course, it could be that they hired individuals to act as spies. The Greek word for “spies” is egkathetos and it means “one who is bribed by others to entrap a man by crafty words” (“G1455 – egkathetosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 2 Oct, 2021.).

But whoever these people were, their mission was simple: “get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). They were tasked with shadowing Jesus and looking for some kind of proof that He was a threat to the Roman government. By this time, the religious leaders had already decided that Jesus needed to die (Luke 19:47), but the Romans prohibited the Jews from carrying out capital punishment. So, it was important that they find evidence that would incriminate Jesus and force the Roman authorities to put Him to death. In chapter 23, where Luke records Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the Sanhedrin level a charge against Jesus that they knew would seal His fate:.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

This accusation had not come out of thin air, but it was a blatant misrepresentation of Jesus’ answer to a question the spies had directed to Him. Not long after telling His parable about the wicked tenants, the spies sent by the Sanhedrin asked Jesus one of their cleverly worded questions.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – Luke 20:21-22

This question had been carefully crafted and was designed to put Jesus in an awkward and untenable predicament. It was a simple question, but because it involved the Roman government and the hot-button topic of taxation, it was politically charged and a potential landmine.

In keeping with their charge to feign sincerity, these men prefaced their question with statements of false flattery designed to disguise their real intent. But Jesus saw through their little charade and knew exactly what they were attempting to do. So, He asked someone in the crowd for a denarius, a Roman coin that bore the image of the emperor. Holding up the coin for all to see, Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?,” and the crowd answered, “Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24 NLT).

Jesus had not been stumped by their trick question. The spies had thought it would put Jesus in a no-win situation. If He declared that the Mosaic law required the Jews to pay taxes or tribute, the people would turn on Him because they despised the oppressive and excessive burden place on them by the Romans. But if Jesus stated that the Jews owed no taxes to Rome because it was a godless and immoral government, He could be accused of undermining the authority of Caesar. This would give the Sanhedrin what they were looking for – evidence that Jesus was fomenting political unrest.

But Jesus avoided controversy by stating, “Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25 NLT). In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image and name, then it is rightfully his and must be returned. But the spies took this very clear statement from Jesus and twisted it into a declaration of rebellion and anarchy. They misrepresented Jesus’ words and told the Sanhedrin that Jesus had promoted tax evasion, and that is exactly what the religious leaders later reported to Pilate.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

These men were willing to do anything to get rid of Jesus, including lie. And Jesus had already confronted them about their propensity for falsehood.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Because they were unable to trick or trap Jesus, they resorted to lies. They fabricated their own version of the truth, propagating a false narrative that would protect and preserve their domain.

But Jesus had not promoted social unrest or some kind of affirmative action. He had clearly told them to give Caesar what rightfully belonged to him. But He had also stated that the Jews were obligated to do the same with God.

“…give to God what belongs to God.” – Luke 20:25 NLT

The denarius bore the image of Caesar, but mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:27 records that God made the first man and woman in His own image.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Just as the Roman coin was stamped with the image of Caesar, every man and woman is stamped with the image of their Creator. And even in their fallen state, they still reflect the ownership of the one who made them. So, in effect, Jesus was encouraging His audience to honor Caesar by returning his property to him. But at the same time, Jesus was insisting that they honor God by returning to God what was rightfully His: Their lives. The apostle Paul would later expand on this idea in his letter to the Romans. In chapter13 of that letter, he gave a series of admonitions to honor and submit to governing authorities because “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Paul went on to address the topic of paying taxes.

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. – Romans 13:5-6 NLT

The same Roman government was in charge during Paul’s day. Nothing had really changed. Rome was no less authoritarian and abusive, yet Paul continued to promote the very same mindset that Jesus had recommended.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:7 ESV

The last part of this verse reflects what Jesus had been trying to convey. If Caesar wanted his coins back, then return them to him. But it is God alone who deserves man’s respect and honor. Because we bear His image, we belong to Him. And Jesus was demanding that the people of Israel give God what was rightfully His: Their lives and their unwavering devotion.

At the heart of this entire exchange is man’s love affair with money and materialism. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned about the dangers of a divided love.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

He knew that the people were inordinately tied to the treasures of this world and, as a result, they had a divided allegiance. So, He warned them:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel were enslaved to money, materialism, power, and prestige. They may have faithfully worshiped at the altar of Yahweh but the real focus of their devotion and desire was earthly treasures. And while they had no love for the Roman government, they were willing to do business with the enemy because they benefited greatly from the relationship. Their greatest fear was that Jesus would disrupt their symbiotic and self-serving relationship with the Romans. They had a bird’s nest on the ground and this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth was threatening to destroy it all. That’s why Caiaphas the high priest would later tell his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus’ death was preferable to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Romans.

“You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:50 NLT

Caiaphas was out to preserve the status quo, and if it required the death of one man, then it would be well worth it. But what Caiaphas failed to realize was that his words were really prophetic.

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. – John 11:51-52 NLT

Jesus, as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), would eventually give back to God what was rightfully His. He would sacrifice His own life on behalf of sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy God by offering His body as the ultimate tribute. Through the willing sacrifice of His life, Jesus would render unto God what was rightfully His.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Glimpse of His Glory

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. – Luke 9:28-36 ESV

Verse 27 of chapter 9 provides a link or bridge between Jesus’ teachings regarding the cost of discipleship and Luke’s account of the transfiguration.

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:27 ESV

Jesus made this rather cryptic statement immediately after declaring, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26 ESV). And this had followed close behind Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for refusing to accept God’s will concerning Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then had balked at the idea of Jesus dire pronouncement that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He had actually rebuked Jesus for saying such things.

The discussions recorded in chapter 9 reveal the growing tension among Jesus’ disciples as they try to reconcile their understanding of His identity as the Messiah with His speech and actions. They were confused by all His talk of suffering and death because it made no sense. When they heard Him tell the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV), they had been stunned.

Jesus knew His disciples well, so He was fully aware of their apprehensions and fears. It’s likely that some of them were having second thoughts about their decision to follow Him. His arguments with the religious leaders had become embarrassing. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about Jesus and His followers. People pointed fingers at them. The disciples must have cringed every time someone said Jesus was crazy or possessed of a demon. His habit of speaking in parables left many confused, including them. So, when Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 ESV), it was a not-so-subtle reference to their doubts and fears.

And that is why Jesus quickly added, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1 NLT). He was not done providing His disciples with further proof of His identity and mission. He was about to confirm Peter’s earlier confession with incontrovertible evidence that He truly was the Messiah. A handful of His disciples were going to get a glimpse behind the curtain, providing them with front-row seats to a spectacular display of Jesus’ glory. Rather than the plainly-clad, thoroughly-human Rabbi they saw every day, they were going to see the glorified Son of God.

Luke’s buildup to this remarkable event is somewhat disappointing. He simply states that about eight days later, Jesus took three of His disciples “and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:28-29 ESV). Not exactly a riveting description of what must have been a momentous and life-changing experience for Peter, James, and John. Mark simply states that Jesus was transfigured before them. The Greek word is metamorphoō, and it means “to change into another form, to transform.”

Jesus’ appearance was suddenly and radically changed. We’re not told how it happened, or long it took for the transformation to take place. But Mark does give us a brief description of the final result: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). This imagery brings to mind John’s description of Jesus in the opening of his gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

The fact that John was one of the three disciples who were privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus helps to explain the nature of his description of Jesus as light.

And both Luke and Mark’s accounts of the transfiguration seem to provide a subtle link to another spectacular event where God’s glory was put on full display. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

The gospel authors seem to be tying the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses on Mount Sinai to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to them like a dazzling light, like a consuming fire. And accompanying Jesus was Moses himself along with the prophet Elijah.

Just imagine this spectacular scene. The three disciples are looking on in stunned silence as they witness Jesus, ablaze with glory, talking with two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. We’re not told how the disciples recognized these two men, whom they had never seen before. It could be that as the disciples overheard the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, their names were mentioned, or some clue was given as to their identity. Luke provides a bit more detail concerning the content of their discussion with Jesus.

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. – Luke 9:30-31 NLT

Peter, James, and John were given the privilege of listening in as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His “exodus.” The Greek word Luke used is exodos, and it means “departing.” There were no two people better qualified to discuss the topic of departing than Moses and Elijah. Moses had led the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. But He also had “departed” this life in a rather extraordinary manner.

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho…So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. The Lord buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. – Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-7 NLT

When Moses’ work was done and his life’s days were finished, his burial service was conducted by God Himself.

And the account of Elijah’s “exodus” from this life is no less spectacular. The book of 2 Kings records that Elijah was walking along with his successor, Elisha, when something remarkable took place.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 NLT

These two “experts” had personal “exodus” experience and were sharing their insights with Jesus. They discussed with Him the events that would surround His coming exodus from this world. And their words would have supported all that Jesus had told the disciples. They discussed the very events Jesus had predicted would happen in Jerusalem and that Peter had rebuked Him for sharing. And that’s when Peter spoke up. He couldn’t remain silent any longer.

As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” – Luke 9:33 NLT

Nervous excitement got the better of him. And whether he realized it or not, Peter stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. In a desire to prolong the moment, Peter suggested that he, James, and John build three small shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to live in. The Greek word he used is skēnē, which translates into “tabernacle.” It was almost as if Peter wanted to set up three little temples or holy structures to house these three extraordinary individuals. We can only speculate what was going through Peter’s mind, but it could be that he viewed the appearance of Elijah and Moses as the sign that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth.

The prophet Malachi had recorded the following promise of God:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Malachi 4:5 ESV

And Moses had predicted that God would raise up another prophet like him.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

And God gave Moses further insight into the role of this coming prophet.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The final words in God’s prophecy are particularly pertinent to what happens next. Peter had expressed his misguided desire to prolong this holy convocation on the mountain top. But God interrupts his little speech and declares, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

In essence, God was telling Peter to shut up and listen to what Jesus was trying to tell him. He had no business rebuking Jesus. There was no need for Peter to build tabernacles. He simply needed to listen.

And just as quickly as it had all started, it was suddenly over. The glory diminished, Elijah and Moses vanished, and the three disciples found themselves standing alone with Jesus. The two Old Testament prophets had made their exodus from the scene. Now, all that was left was for Jesus to face His own exodus from this world. He still had to face the reality of the cross. In a very short period of time, Jesus would find Himself alone. There would be no Elijah or Moses to comfort Him. His disciples would abandon Him. And rather than being cloaked in glory, Jesus would be mockingly draped in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He would be ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. And later, He would make His exodus from this life. All according to the sovereign will of His Heavenly Father.

God would have Peter remember: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19 NLT). And it seems that Peter and his companions took God seriously because “they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36 ESV). This once-in-a-lifetime experience had improved their hearing and increased their receptivity. From that moment forward they couldn’t help but see Jesus in a different light.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Edifice Complex

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.

The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house, and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar. 10 He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.

11 Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:1-13 ESV

David had begun the preparations for the construction of the temple long before he died. It had been his idea to build a “house” for God, but he had been denied David the honor of overseeing its actual construction. That task fell to his son and successor, Solomon. And even though David had given Solomon the plans and provided a vast amount of the building supplies necessary to start the project, it would be four years into Solomon’s reign before construction began. The sheer size and scope of the project required careful planning and the time to amass and transport all the materials David’s ambitious plans required.

Massive stones had to be quarried and moved to the building site. Lumber from Lebanon had to be cut and transported by ships from Tyre to the coastline of Israel, then carried inland to the city of Jerusalem. The site itself, located on the summit of Mount Zion, had to be leveled and prepared for the actual construction to begin. So, four years after taking the throne, after all the preparations were complete, Solomon officially launched the construction phase of the project, and the author points out that it was 480 years after the people of Israel had been released by God from their captivity in Egypt. This link back to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is significant because it provides a vivid contrast between the nation’s past and present circumstances. This temple was being built to honor the God of Israel, the same God who, nearly half a millennium earlier, had rescued their ancestors from their dire conditions in a foreign land and had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance – all in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. He had provided the people of Israel with the land of Canaan as their inheritance, and now Solomon, the son of David, was honoring his father’s wishes by building a temple worthy of such a great and gracious God.

While the author provides detailed descriptions of the temple’s size and dimensions, there is not enough information to know exactly what the temple looked like when completed. It was roughly twice the size of the Mosaic tabernacle and built of massive hand-carved limestone blocks and lumber made from cedar from the forests of Lebanon. And the completed structure was ornamented with gold. Solomon spared no expense in the construction of God’s house. It was to be a showplace, a one-of-a-kind structure meant to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even with tens of thousands of conscripted laborers working around the clock, it would take nearly eight years to complete the project.

Sometime during the course of construction, Solomon received a message from God. In the midst of his ongoing efforts to build a house for God, he was reminded that a beautiful building would not ensure the presence of God.

“Concerning this Temple you are building, if you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David. I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel.” – 1 Kings 6:12 NLT

God had made a commitment to David, promising to place one of his sons on the throne after him. And this son would fulfill David’s dream of building a temple for the Lord. But, more importantly, the Lord would place His protective hand over David’s son.

“…when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.’” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 NLT

But even David knew that this promise from God came with certain conditions. He believed God would fulfill His part of the covenant, but he also knew that his son would need to remain faithful to God. Just prior to his death, David had even warned Solomon that faithfulness would be essential if he wanted to experience God’s fruitfulness.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

Building God a house in which to dwell was not going to guarantee His presence, power, and provision. In fact, God didn’t require a dwelling place. And in the book of Acts, Luke records a powerful sermon given by Stephen to a crowd of Jews who would eventually stone him to death. In that sermon, Stephen reminded them that the temple was never meant to be a sign of God’s presence.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” – Acts 7:46-50 NLT

And Luke also records the words of the apostle Paul, spoken to a crowd of Greeks in the middle of the city of Athens.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” – Acts 17:24-25 NLT

God wasn’t standing around in heaven, waiting for Solomon to complete the temple, so He could take up occupancy. God did not need Solomon’s temple. God had made the stones and the trees used in the construction of the temple. He had created and breathed life into the men who labored to build it. And He had placed Solomon on the throne and given him the privilege of making it all happen.

But what God really wanted from Solomon was obedience. He desired a king who would live in faithful adherence to His laws and display a commitment to all His commands. Solomon’s own father understood that God was far more interested in the condition of a man’s heart than the accomplishments of his hands.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

As the temple neared completion, Solomon was given a powerful reminder that the key to his success would not be found in a building, but in his commitment to the will and the ways of God. The temple would be nothing more than a symbol of God’s presence. It would provide a daily reminder of His majesty and glory, but should never be seen as a guarantee of His pleasure with or approval of His people. As the grand edifice of the temple neared completion, it rose from the heights of Mount Zion and became the pride of the people of Israel. But, if they weren’t careful, they would end up being more impressed with the work of their hands and worshiping their creation, than obeying and revering the Creator God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Shut Up and Listen!

1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. Mark 9:1-8 ESV

Verse 1 of chapter 9 provides a link or bridge between the teachings of Jesus’ in the previous chapter and Mark’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration. All that took place in chapter 8 serves as a preface to what Mark is about to describe, including Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus’ revelation concerning His coming death, and His rebuke of Peter for refusing to accept God’s will.

The discussions recorded in chapter 8 reveal the growing tension among Jesus’ disciples as they try to reconcile their understanding of His role as the Messiah and all that they hear Him say and see Him doing. His actions and words are confusing to them. All of His talk of suffering and death was senseless to them. When they heard Him tell the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 ESV), they were stunned.

Jesus knew His disciples well, so He was fully aware of their apprehensions and fears. It is likely that some of them were having second thoughts about their decision to follow Him. His arguments with the religious leaders had become embarrassing. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about Jesus and His followers. People pointed fingers at them. The disciples must have cringed every time someone said Jesus was crazy or possessed of a demon. His cryptic-style of teaching left many confused, including them. So, when Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 ESV), it was a not-so-subtle reference to their doubts and fears.

And that is why Jesus quickly added, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1 NLT). He was not done providing His disciples with further proof of His identity and mission. He was about to confirm Peter’s earlier confession with incontrovertible evidence that He truly was the Messiah. A handful of His disciples were going to get a glimpse behind the curtain, providing them with front-row seats to a spectacular display of Jesus’ glory. Rather than seeing the plainly-clad, thoroughly-human Rabbi they saw every day, they were going to see the glorified Son of God.

Mark’s buildup to this remarkable event is somewhat disappointing. He simply states that six days later, Jesus took three of His disciples “and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2 ESV). Not exactly a riveting description of what must have been a momentous and life-changing experience for Peter, James, and John. Mark simply states that Jesus was transfigured before them. The Greek word is metamorphoō, and it means “to change into another form, to transform.”

Jesus’ appearance was suddenly and radically changed. We’re not told how it happened, or long it took to happen. But Mark does give us a brief description of the final result: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). This imagery brings to mind John’s description of Jesus in the opening of his gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

The fact that John was one of the three disciples who were privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus helps to explain the nature of his description of Jesus as light.

And Mark’s account of the transfiguration seems to provide a subtle link to another spectacular event where God’s glory was put on full display. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

Notice the reference to six days. Perhaps Mark was trying to provide a connection between these two events, tying the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses in Sinai to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to them like a dazzling light, like a consuming fire. And accompanying Jesus was Moses himself and the prophet Elijah.

Just imagine this spectacular scene. The three disciples are looking on in stunned silence as they witness Jesus, ablaze with glory, talking with two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. We’re not told how the disciples recognized these two men, whom they had never seen before. It could be that as the disciples overheard the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, their names were mentioned, or some clue was given as to their identity. Luke provides a bit more detail concerning the content of their discussion with Jesus.

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. – Luke 9:30-31 NLT

Peter, James, and John listened in as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His “exodus.” The Greek word Luke used is exodos, and it means “departing.” There were no two people better qualified to discuss the topic of departing than Moses and Elijah. Moses had led the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. But He also had “departed” this life in a rather extraordinary manner.

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho…So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. The Lord buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. – Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-7 NLT

When Moses’ work was done and his life’s days were finished, his burial service was conducted by God Himself.

And the account of Elijah’s “exodus” from this life was no less spectacular. The book of 2 Kings records that Elijah was walking along with his successor, Elisha, when something remarkable took place.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 NLT

So, these two “experts” in departing were sharing their insight with Jesus. They discussed with Him the events that would surround His coming exodus from this world. And their words would have supported all that Jesus had told the disciples. They discussed the very events Jesus had predicted would happen in Jerusalem and that Peter had rebuked Him for sharing. And that’s when Peter spoke up. He couldn’t remain silent any longer.

Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. – Mark 9:5-6 NLT

Nervous excitement got the better of him. And whether he realized it or not, Peter stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. In a desire to prolong the moment, Peter suggested that he, James, and John build three small shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to live in. The Greek word he used is skēnē, which translates into “tabernacle.” It was almost as if Peter wanted to set up three little temples or holy structures to house these three extraordinary individuals. We can only speculate what was going through Peter’s mind, but it could be that he viewed the appearance of Elijah and Moses as the sign that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth.

The prophet Malachi had recorded the following promise of God:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Malachi 4:5 ESV

And Moses had predicted that God would raise up another prophet like him.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

And God gave Moses further insight into the role of this coming prophet.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The final words in God’s prophecy are particularly pertinent to what happens next. Peter had expressed his misguided desire to prolong this holy convocation on the mountain top. But God interrupts his little speech and declares, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7 ESV).

In essence, God was telling Peter to shut up and to start listening to what Jesus was trying to tell him. He had no business rebuking Jesus. There was no need for Peter to build tabernacles. He simply needed to listen.

And just as quickly as it had all started, it was suddenly over. The glory diminished, Elijah and Moses vanished, and the three disciples found themselves standing alone with Jesus. The two Old Testament prophets had made their exodus from the scene. Now, all that was left was for Jesus to face His own exodus from this world. He still had to face the reality of the cross. In a very short period of time, Jesus would find Himself alone. There would be no Elijah or Moses to comfort Him. His disciples would abandon Him. And rather than being cloaked in glory, Jesus would be mockingly draped in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He would be ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. And He would make His exodus from this life. All according to the sovereign will of His Heavenly Father.

And God would have Peter remember: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Disbelief of Family and Foes

1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.John 7:1-10 ESV

In John’s gospel, Jerusalem appears to be ground-zero. While he dedicates a good portion of his narrative to events that took place outside of Judea, he repeatedly refocuses the reader’s attention back to the capital city. Jerusalem was the home of God’s house, the temple that had been reconstructed by Herod. It was where the annual feasts and festivals, prescribed by God to Moses, were celebrated. This celebrated city, while just a shadow of its former glory under the reigns of David and his son, Solomon, was still the epicenter of the Hebrew nation. It was home to the revered and feared Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin. And it had become the focal point of the conflict between these well-established religious leaders and Jesus, whom they viewed as nothing more than a charlatan and a troublesome threat to their power and authority.

With the opening of chapter seven, John establishes the inherent danger the city of Jerusalem posed for Jesus. This was the very place where, in the early days of His ministry, Jesus had caused an uproar in the temple courtyard.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. – John 2:14-15 ESV

This emotional display had won Jesus no friends among the religious elite of Israel. They questioned His authority to do what He had done, and they began to view Him as nothing more than a showboating, attention-grabbing troublemaker from Galilee. This unknown Rabbi from Galilee had been drawing larger and larger crowds with His so-called miracles and ridiculous claims to be the Son of God. To the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus was a lunatic and possibly even demon-possessed. And He had clearly committed the sin of blasphemy by claiming equality with God.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

As John continues to chronicle the life and ministry of Jesus, he purposely builds the sense of tension between the Messiah of Israel and those who had set themselves up as the religious gatekeepers of the nation. And Jerusalem becomes center-stage for what will be the ultimate showdown between Jesus and these men. But as will be revealed, this conflict will prove to be a spiritual battle between Almighty God and Satan, the prince of this world.

As chapter seven opens, John reveals just how dangerous things had become for Jesus. Due to the growing animosity of the Sanhedrin, Jesus had determined to spend most of His time in Galilee, rather than in Judea because He knew they were out to kill Him. Jesus did not fear death, but He was simply sticking to the divine timeline given to Him by His Heavenly Father. It was just as He had told His mother at the wedding in Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4 ESV).

John reveals that the “Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2 ESV). This was one of three annual feasts that required the mandatory attendance of all Jewish males.

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. – Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV

But these festivals became annual pilgrimages for the Jews, drawing large crowds to Jerusalem. The Feast of Booths was to be a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and a joyous celebration of His provision and protection of them during their 40 years in the wilderness. And when they gathered in Jerusalem, they were not to come “empty-handed,” but they were to bring tithes and offerings to present to God.

The key theme of these opening verses is that of disbelief. It seems quite clear that the Jewish religious leaders did not believe in Jesus. They had even discounted His miracles by describing them as the work of Satan, not God (Matthew 12:24). But John adds another interesting group to the list of the unbelieving: The half-brothers of Jesus. These were men who had grown up in the same household with Jesus. They were intimately familiar with Him. And yet, they were not quite convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be. In fact, at one point, they described His actions as those of a madman (Mark 3:21). Yet, in this case, they seem to be goading Jesus to use the Feast of Tabernacles as the opportunity to make a name for Himself.

“Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” – John 7:3-4 ESV

It’s impossible to know the motivation behind their words. Were they sincere or merely being sarcastic? John doesn’t tell us. But he does make it clear that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). It would appear that they were prompting Jesus to use the Feast of Booths as a platform for displaying His miraculous powers. He was wasting His time doing miracles in Galilee. If He wanted to be famous, He was going to have to go prime-time, and what better venue than Jerusalem during one of the most popular feasts of the year?

But Jesus responded to their goading by saying, “My time has not yet come…” (John 7:6 ESV). There is probably a double-meaning to His response. First of all, it was not yet time for Jesus to be “glorified.” They were wanting Him to put on a display of His glory by performing miracles in Jerusalem. But that time had not yet come. Jesus was on God’s schedule, not man’s. Their counsel was eerily similar to that of Satan when he had tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10) He had attempted to get Jesus to display His glory ahead of schedule and out of keeping with God’s will.

But the second meaning behind His response was that it was not yet time for Him to attend the feast. Jesus told His brothers, “your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast…” (John 7:6-8 ESV). They had nothing to fear. Because they did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, they were not at risk. They could walk into Jerusalem unafraid and unmolested. But Jesus knew that He would receive a dramatically different welcome. So, He delayed His entry into Jerusalem. John makes that point clear in verse 10.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. – John 7:10 ESV

Jesus would be obedient and obey the law requiring all Jewish males to attend the feast. But He would not do so in a way that might jeopardize His mission. His half-brothers were wanting Jesus to make a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, to show up in a blaze of attention-getting miracles. But it was not yet time. Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And it all had to be done according to plan.

But central to these opening verses is the theme of disbelief. The Jewish leadership refused to believe in Jesus. But so did His own family members. And jealousy and pride were probably determining factors for both groups. The Pharisees and Sadducees were envious of Jesus’ popularity. They felt threatened by His growing fame and frustrated by their inability to discredit His claims. But there was likely a bit of jealousy and pride motivating Jesus’ own family members. Here was their older brother becoming a celebrity and they were left in the background, wondering just how famous their sibling would become and whether they would benefit from His meteoric rise to fame and fortune. But they did not believe in Him. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. To both groups, Jesus was just a man. To the religious leaders, He was a man who posed a threat to their power and authority. To His half-brothers, Jesus was a man who offered them an opportunity to enjoy fame and possible fortune. But both groups failed to recognize who He was and what He had come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson