Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Passing Through the Curtain

Jesus is presented as portraying the actions of the High Priest on Atonement Day. As the High Priest passed though the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy compartments, leaving the curtain behind him, so Jesus passed through the dimensional barrier separating the physical realm from the spirit realm and left all that pertains to the physical world behind him. Additionally, as the High Priest carried only the sacrificial blood and not the sacrificed body past the curtain into the Most Holy, so Jesus then as our High Priest carried the value of his lifeblood[1] that he willfully sacrificed in death and not his sacrificed body through the spiritual curtain.

Please note these excellent scriptural comments regarding the resurrected Jesus’ passage as illustrated by the High Priest:
The Inauguration of a ‘New and Living Way.’ While Jesus began his ascent in a physical form, thus being visible to his watching disciples, there is no basis for assuming that he continued to retain a material form after the cloud interposed itself. The apostle Peter states that Jesus died in the flesh but was resurrected “in the spirit.” (1Pe 3:18) Paul declares the rule that “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” (1Co 15:50; compare also Jesus’ statement at Joh 12:23, 24 with 1Co 15:35-45.) Paul likens Jesus’ ascent to God’s presence in the heavens to the entry of the high priest into the Most Holy compartment of the tabernacle on the Day of Atonement and specifies that on such occasion the high priest carried only the blood (not the flesh) of the sacrificial victims. (Heb 9:7, 11, 12, 24-26) Paul then compares the curtain, which separated the first compartment from the Most Holy compartment, to Christ’s flesh. The high priest in passing into the Most Holy, into God’s typical presence, did not carry the curtain with him but passed through that barrier and beyond it, so that it was behind him. Thus, Paul states that “we have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh.”—Heb 9:3, 24; 10:10, 19, 20; compare Joh 6:51; Heb 6:19, 20.
Jesus’ ascension to heaven to present the ransoming value of his lifeblood to Jehovah inaugurated “a new and living way” of approach to God in prayer. That it also opened the way to heavenly life harmonizes with Jesus’ own statement to the effect that, prior thereto, “no man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” (Joh 3:13) Thus, neither Enoch nor Elijah inaugurated this way, any more than David had. (Ge 5:24; 2Ki 2:11; Ac 2:34) As Paul states: “The holy spirit makes it plain that the way into the holy place had not yet been made manifest while the first tent was standing.”—Heb 9:8. (Insight on the Scriptures, “Ascension”)
Thus, as Jesus was acting as the High Priest, he could not use his sacrificed body.[2] So when he appeared as a man after his resurrection, he was a spirit being using a materialized body—something not unusual in the Bible. Therefore, even though he ascended with a unique materialized body which he disposed of as the cloud obscured him from the view of his disciples on the ground below (Acts 1:9), he had actually presented the value of his sacrificed lifeblood to his Father in the spiritual Most Holy on the day of his resurrection. As one journal explained, after Jesus was resurrected back as a spirit being, only “then he could enter the Most Holy compartment of God’s spiritual temple—heaven itself.” Hebrews 9:24 confirms that “Christ did not enter into a holy place [or “sanctuary,” NET Bible, referring to the Most Holy] made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, so that he now appears before [or “before the face of”] God on our behalf.” The same journal continues:
In heaven, Jesus ‘spattered the blood’ of his sacrifice by presenting the ransoming value of his lifeblood to Jehovah. Yet, Jesus did more. Shortly before his death, he had told his followers: “I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:2, 3) So by gaining entrance into the Most Holy, or heaven, Jesus opened the way for others to follow. (Hebrews 6:19, 20) (The Watchtower. January 15, 2000 page 16, “Desirable Things” Are Filling Jehovah’s House)
As the NET Bible footnote for Hebrews 10:20 informs us, “just as the curtain was split, so Christ’s body was broken for us, to give us access into God’s presence.” Thus, just as the “Gates of the Grave” swung open for Jesus at the command of his Father (Matthew 16:18; Galatians 1:1), so Jesus now has the authority to open the gates of death for his faithful (spirit-anointed) followers to join him in heavenly life, also leaving their human bodies behind as Jesus was obliged to do as their spiritual High Priest.—Revelation 20:6.

Lastly, as the curtain represents Christ’s flesh that he left behind entering heaven, it seems this correspondence would also work when Jesus agreed to be transferred into Mary’s womb as a fully physical being (Galatians 4:4), passing through the curtain from the Most Holy to the Holy.[3] He agreed to become a perfect human and then surrender his human life to furnish the corresponding ransom sacrifice (1 Timothy 2:5-6) that he presented before God after passing though greater spiritual curtain from the Holy.

  1. Connection to Daniel 7:13?
  2. Significance of Rending the Curtain
  3. Another Pre-Christian Drama
Connection to Daniel 7:13?
In this scripture a figure ascending on clouds identified prophetically as the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ ascends to God’s heavenly court and is allowed close, personal access to God. It seems to me that the imagery of the cloud obscuring the view of the ascending Jesus in Acts 1:9 is continued in Daniel 7:13. (Compare the cloud of Acts 1:9 with the cloud Jesus as “someone like a son of man” is seated on in Revelation 14:14, reinforcing this connection to Daniel 7:13.) This figure is “like a son of man” because he existed on earth as such, but is now a resurrected and exalted figure. Now, while the vision of this one “like a son of man” continues without pause to his coronation in the next verse (Daniel 7:14), the fulfillment may not necessarily have to occur literally right after his ascension. In the fulfillment an unspecified period of time may lie between these two events. This is seen in the fulfillment of another prophecy in Psalm 110:1, where in the fulfillment Jesus is sitting close to God at His right hand, waiting for the time to act as a coronated king and judge.—Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1, 12:2.

Significance of Rending the Curtain
After Jesus died on Nisan 14, the Temple’s curtain was rent from top to bottom down the middle. (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45) The rending was doubtlessly a devastating, unmendable tearing. As the curtain signified Jesus’ flesh (Hebrews 10:20), a symbolic barrier preventing Jesus’ entry into heaven, its rending was a dynamic demonstration that his flesh was no longer a barrier to his entry into the spirit realm or heaven. Therefore, on Nisan 16 Jesus was resurrected and passed through the spiritual curtain with his sacrificed body outside, with the torn physical curtain now having exhausted its purpose before God.

Another Pre-Christian Drama
There is a significant account in Judges of an angel, called “Jehovah’s angel,” making a remarkable ascent to heaven:
Judges 13:19-20 RNWT
“19 Then Manoah took the young goat and the grain offering and offered them on the rock to Jehovah.”
Two things are identified as being on the rock altar: a slain goat and grain. Apparently there was not any wood for starting the fire on the altar.
“And He was doing something amazing while Manoah and his wife were looking on.”
Apparently the angel miraculously started the fire similar to Gideon’s angel—also called “Jehovah’s angel”—in Judges 6:20-21, who miraculously ignited meat and grains (in the form of unleavened bread) that was also on a bare rock altar. Similarly, Manoah’s sacrificial meat and grains are apparently consumed by fire emanating from the bare rocks.
“20 As the flame ascended from the altar heavenward, Jehovah’s angel ascended in the flame from the altar while Manoah and his wife were looking on. At once they fell with their faces to the ground.”
This angel mounts the burning altar and stands in the flames, then ascends to God’s court.

This may be viewed as a Christological drama, as noted by a number of commentaries.[C1] Viewed this way, this “angel of Jehovah” represents Jesus who came to earth and was given a sacrificial body in a household of a man and woman. The angel igniting the fire and mounting the burning altar represents Jesus’ willfully surrendering his life as a sacrifice. The angel standing on the altar represents Jesus offering his life as a ransom sacrifice. The meat and grains being consumed by the fire represents Jesus’s sacrificial body being sacrificed. The angel’s ascension to God represents Jesus as a resurrected person ascending back to God. That the angel did not pick up the goat’s remains and take that with him in his ascent represents that Jesus did not retain his sacrificed body.

Regarding how the angel did not take the burnt sacrificial remains with him but left them behind: to reiterate, I think this may be significant as this “angel of Jehovah” may easily be viewed as a prehuman visitation of Jesus. If so, then his actions become even more significant as a dramatization of what he would personally perform in his future role as the messiah. As the “angel of Jehovah” left the sacrificed body behind and did not take it with him to God in heaven, so as the messiah he would likewise leave his sacrificed body behind, just like the High Priest on Atonement Day who left the sacrificed body outside. Sacrificed bodies always remain outside, as Hebrews 13:11-12 and Leviticus 16:27 make clear, even equating the burned up animal sacrifice outside the Temple with Jesus’ sacrificed body.—Hebrews 10:10 (5/1/2015)

[1] By virtue of being alive by resurrection from death he presented the value of his sacrificed lifeblood. That life represents blood is seen in Leviticus 17:11, 14.

[2] As Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah and not the priestly tribe of Levi, he could not serve as the Christian High Priest if he retained his Judahite body.—Matthew 1 and Luke 3 genealogies; Hebrews 7:14; Revelation 5:5; Numbers 1:50, 51.

[3] Technically, the “Spiritual Temple” came into operation when Jesus was baptized and anointed with holy spirit, thus becoming the High Priest of the Spiritual Temple. At that time the Holy began to picture “his rebirth as a spiritual Son of God destined to return to heavenly life.” So Jesus technically then could not have entered the Holy when he was born. Additionally, there was also the inner priestly courtyard which “pictured his sinless condition as a perfect human Son of God.” While Jesus was a very devout and studious servant of God prior to his baptism, he did not dwell in these spiritual areas until after his baptism. However, the Temple egress analogy still serves to illustrate Jesus’ journey as a missionary (par excellence) from heaven to earth, keeping in mind that it only became engaged as an operating spiritual temple at his baptism. (Quotes from The Watchtower. July 1, 1996 page 16, Jehovah’s Great Spiritual Temple)

[C1] See for instance the Matthew Henry commentary, which notes:

“We may apply it to Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us; he ascended in the flame of his own offering, for by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, Heb. 9:12.”

While the account with Manoah lends itself Christologically as a drama, the account with Gideon only presents a precursor to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, as in his miraculous disappearance in front of disciples as described in Luke 24:31.

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  • Ice Cave under a Glacier | Photography by ©Unknown Master
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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Jesus’ Virgin Birth Review

The Angel Gabriel Visits Mary

Do the Christian Scriptures provide a unanimous voice on Jesus’ virgin birth? Is the virgin birth based on a mistranslation from the Greek Septuagint (LXX)? Direct answers may be given to these serious questions, and the relevant scriptures are presented below from the NET Bible.

First, here are the scriptures that are either virgin birth proof-texts or favorable to the virgin birth.

Matthew 1:18, 22-25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. ... This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”… He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.

This proof-text famously employs a quotation from Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 has the word almah, which may mean “virgin” but literally means “young woman.” However it was later translated into Greek in the LXX using the word parthenos, which technically means “virgin.” Thus, it was not a mistranslation to use parthenos, as almah can mean that. This dual meaning of almah was then used messianically as seen in Matthew 1:23.

Luke 1:26, 27, 34, 35
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. … Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.

It must be remembered that Luke was a physician. (Colossians 4:14) It also appears that he had direct contact with Mary and recorded her emotions and expressions, including her hymn of praise in Luke 1:46-55. Thus he had very personal insight into Mary as he researched “all things carefully from the beginning.” (Luke 1:3)

Romans 8:3
For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

This indicates that Jesus’ birth was unique, for natural births produce sinful flesh, but Jesus’ birth did not, being only in its “likeness.”

1 Corinthians 15:45
So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

This may also indicate that Jesus had a unique birth, as did the first Adam.

Hebrews 10:5
So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”

This quotation from Psalm 40:6 LXX also indicates a unique birth, for in the virgin birth scenario, it was indeed God who instigated the pregnancy process, forming an embryo. This is perhaps the closest thing to a “proof-text” outside of the Matthean and Lukan accounts.

Now scriptures that are seemingly incongruent with the virgin birth will be considered. The first come from Mark and John:

Mark 3:21
When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

John 7:5
(For not even his own brothers believed in him.)

If Mary was a virgin while pregnant with Jesus, then she and her husband Joseph would have naturally explained this to their families and children. We would think then that it would follow that they would be inclined to hold Jesus in high regard with a miraculous status, and respect him when he started his ministry. But as reported by Mark and John, this was not the case. It could be that they concluded in their hearts that Mary was raped while unconscious, or something similar.[1] This hypothetical conclusion though would be cynical, and contradict Doctor Luke’s assessment of her virgin status. Therefore, their disbelief in Jesus would not necessarily contradict the virgin birth.

John 8:41
Then they said to Jesus, “We were not born as a result of immorality!”

Here, in the Temple’s Court of Women, Jesus’ enemies subtly implied that Jesus’ virgin birth was a sham, and that he was born from premarital sex. Both pagan and Jewish opposers of Christianity continued to play this card, even identifying a Roman soldier as the fornicator with Mary, giving Jesus Gentile blood.[2] Interestingly, this charge may not have been this developed in John, with a named Roman soldier, for then Jesus’ opposers could have additionally charged him with being a violator of the Temple’s Soreg wall, which forbade under the penalty of death Gentiles entering the Temple courtyards.

Romans 1:3
concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh

Here the footnote for “was a descendant” points out that the Greek literally says “born of the seed,” which it identifies as “an idiom.” It would not necessarily discount belief in the virgin birth. The point is that Jesus’ parents were Davidic descendants and so was Jesus through Mary. Furthermore, the footnote for “reference to the flesh” says that “this phrase implies that Jesus was more than human.” That is, he had a prehumen existence in the spirit realm and therefore had a remarkable birth. Thus this scripture ironically may be used to support Jesus’ virgin birth.

Galatians 4:4
But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Here no mention is made of Jesus’ virgin birth, but such a specific detail was unnecessary to the main point. The point was that he was not a materialization or an incarnation, but was born from a Jewish woman, and thus under the Mosaic Law. Thus, the Pauline epistles categorically identify Jesus as a Jew with a unique birth.

Mythological connections?
Pagan myth does not have anything exactly like what Matthew and Luke report. Gods having sexual intercourse with women and producing demigods is not the same thing. If anything, this sounds more like the Nephilim legends derived from Genesis 6:2, 4.

It has been demonstrated that there is no clear contradiction of the virgin birth in the Christian Scriptures. The only exception is with Jesus’ enemies and others who lacked faith in him. Additionally, as all these scriptures were penned in the first century CE, the virgin birth teaching was not introduced later. In fact, one indication that Matthew and Luke may even pre-date the Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E. is that they include genealogies which went up in flames with Jerusalem and the Temple.

Soteriological considerations?
If Jesus was not born of a virgin, then he was the total product of a Jewish couple. However, Jesus was said to be the “last Adam.” That is, he was hailed as what Adam was before his sin, as there was no inherited sin in Jesus. (Hebrews 4:15 and 1 Peter 2:22) Therefore, if we lose the virgin birth, we also loose Jesus as a savior, for he was then born into inherited sin and needed a savior himself—falling under the condemnation of Romans 5:12 like the rest of us as Psalm 49:7, 8 clearly communicates. To put it plainly, rejecting the virgin birth is the same as rejecting Christ.[3] (1/17/2017)

[1] In accordance with Deuteronomy 22:23-29, if she was unconscious then she was innocent and her community standing remained untarnished.

[2] For instance, the Pharisees’ descendants in the Middle Ages authored an “anti-Gospel” called the Toledot Yeshu, which accuses Jesus of illegitimate birth as the son of Pandera. This was stated earlier in the 2nd century by the anti-Christian pagan Greek philosopher Celsus, who charged that Mary, while engaged, had a child by a certain Roman soldier named Panthera. (Note that Pandera=Panthera=Pantera.) Celsus’ accusation doubtlessly originated with Jewish opposers of Christianity as later seen in the Toledot Yeshu.

[3] For a more in-depth explanation of scriptural soteriology, see: Comparing Saving Schemes

Introductory picture from Imitate Their Faith, chapter 17 “Look! Jehovah’s Slave Girl!”

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