Monthly Archives: January 2016

Review: The Unseen Realm

God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council;

         In the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment (Ps 82.1, ESV)

If God is “elohim” and holds judgment in the midst of the gods (who are also “elohim”), what do we make of this? “Psalm 82 states that the gods were being condemned as corrupt in their administration of the nations of the earth” (12, cf. Deut. 32.8).

Dr. Michael Heiser aims to provide an “unfiltered look at what the Bible really says about the unseen realm.” Many Christians are fine believing in the spiritual realm where God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, and demons reside. But often if you go beyond that, they become skeptical. For the last 15 years Heiser has researched the ancient Near Eastern cultures and their writings to grasp the mindset of the ancient Israelite. How differently did they think about the spiritual world than we do today?

Paul said we wrestle against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. How did he know this? Who are these beings? It takes putting on the mindset of an ancient Israelite to know this. After reading The Unseen Realm you will see the Bible through new eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions by Christians:

  • What/who are angels and demons and where did they come from?
  • Is there a hierarchy?
  • Did animals talk before the Fall? Why wasn’t Eve afraid of the snake?
  • Why did God send the Flood?
  • Why did God command Israel to wipe out the Canaanites? How can I accept this?
  • Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6?
  • What does this have to do with me as a Christian today?
  • Does it make a difference?

Summary

The Unseen Realm is divided into eight sections made up by 42 chapters. It’s not easy to summarize these eight sections in a few sentences, but I’ll give it a shot. 

Part 1: First Things
This is the book’s introduction where Heiser describes the beginning of his journey and how the weird verses that we don’t give much thought to actually are important.

Part 2: The Households of God
God has a “divine family,” the Divine Council, who serve him and carry out his commands. God also has an earthly family who is to spread God’s name across the globe, fulfilling his commands. Though God, Yahweh, is superior, both families will still rebel.

Part 3: Divine Transgressions
The nachash (the serpent, a divine being) rebels against YHWH and convinces the first man and woman to sin. There are more divine transgressions in Genesis 6, with the offspring residing in the land of Canaan, land given to Abraham and his seed. The tower of Babel “citizens” are dispersed and placed under the rule of lesser gods who try to rival YHWH’s power. There will be war.

Part 4: Yahweh and His Portion
YHWH chooses Abraham out of the dispersion and will create a people out of Abram who will follow Him. He would be a father of many nations, implying that the dispersed nations would be brought back to YHWH. Here we see aspects of the Trinity; lines that are blurred. All believers, Jews and Gentiles, will replace the divine council, and we are already-but-not-yet his council on earth.

Part 5: Conquest and Failure
There are “giant problems” after the Flood. “Yahweh had chosen to accomplish his ends through imagers loyal to him against imagers who weren’t” (215). YHWH’s presence is unwelcome to the rebellious earth-dwellers, and Heiser argues that Joshua’s holy war was against the descendants of the Nephilim, not “normal” humans.

Part 6: Thus Says the Lord
The nations remained under the rule of the foreign gods. Israel, God’s people, was constantly at war with these other nations. The Temple, where Israel met with their God, was like the Garden of Eden. But Israel rebelled, and God commissioned the Prophets, usually in his divine council throne room (Isa 6.1-2). Daniel 7 shows us a man who rides the clouds, and the eternal kingdom given to him will be also be given to the holy ones of the most high (Dan 7.14, 18, 22).

Part 7: The Kingdom Already
“The New Testament” marks the rebirth of a struggle thousands of years in the making” (344). Jesus has the Name of the Lord on him and leads Israel and the Gentiles out of exile in the new Exodus. Pentecost reverses the tower of Babel scene. Believers, being ‘sons of God,’ will have governing rule (Dan 7.14, 18, 22), and they will displace the rebellious beings and judge them (1 Cor 6.3). 1 Peter tells us that baptism is spiritual warfare, “a pledge of loyalty to the risen Savior” (338).

Part 8: The Kingdom Not Yet
Heiser compares the throne room imagery between Revelation and the prophets. He views the foe from the north, Gog and Magog, as having some sort of relation with Bashan, a common spiritual enemy to Israel in the OT. In the end, YHWH will return with his holy ones, angels and glorified humans.

Most sections ends with a quick Section Summary.

Recommended?

Highly recommended. While I think (but I’m not sure) Heiser might be viewing too many texts through his Deuteronomy 32 worldview, he also brings to light texts that many have either overlooked or avoided because of their weirdness.

Though Heiser has stated on his podcast that he is a grammar nerd, his book is surprisingly easy to read. The concepts are heavy because they will likely be something you’ve never heard before, but he is able to simplify the concepts into bite-sized chapters that range between 5-10 pages. Heiser succeeds in making the scholarly world accessible to the layman. Many of the deep, textual matters are left to the footnotes. Though you may not agree with everything Heiser says, he puts together the OT thought world, concepts, and lifestyle into our understanding formed (probably) primarily by the NT. He presents an overarching view of the Bible that appears to work, and it’s one that I will work into my understanding. 

Heiser’s view helps me want to read the Bible more since I have a better understanding of what is happening “behind the scenes.” I have a better understanding of the Israelite mindset, and any book that helps me to read the Bible more (like this one here) is worth the buy.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 1, 2015)

Previous Posts

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: Acts (PNTC)

Acts

Peterson begins his commentary with a 97 page Introduction divided into two sections. The first deals with issues like Authorship, Date, Genre, Sources, Historical Reliability, Character, Structure, Purpose, and Interpretive Issues (e.g., the use of key terms, Scripture, narrative repetition, parallel and contrasting accounts, etc).

In the second section Peterson helpfully presents ten aspects of Acts’ theology covering 40 pages: God and His Plan, the Gospel, the Atoning Work of Jesus, Miracles, Magic and the Demonic, and more. The commentary proper is already quite large (626 full pages, which even for Acts is quite long), and this holistic overview of the theology of Acts helps give the teacher/pastor/student the proper perspective through which to view Acts from as they enter into the commentary proper.

Peterson brings out connections between Luke’s first and second volume and shows how Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT, saying, “From beginning to end… the ascended Lord is shown to be sovereign over every thing that happens, furthering his purpose in the world through his word and his Spirit” (27). In Acts the “growth of the word is clearly coextensive with the growth of the church…” (33). In fact, the “gospel is shown to prosper in spite of, and even because of, suffering” (33-34).

Peterson’s Aims

Peterson tries to be comprehensive, but says he writes specifically with a “bias towards theological analysis and an exploration of hermeneutical issues” (xvii). Basically, what does the text say, why does it say it, and what does it mean? Peterson is aware of the many monographs and scholarly articles that most readers will never lay their eyes on. He boils down the insights of others into a readable format for the general reader.

He argues that “Acts was written primarily for the edification of the church and for the encouragement of gospel ministry,” and he believes it has just as much relevance for us today.

Peterson is aware of the difficulty in preaching biblical narratives, and offers “more clues for understanding the purpose and meaning of various elements” of Acts. Alongside those issues are matters of interpreting texts dealing with the Holy Spirit, miracles, Christian gatherings, divine guidance, and the relevance of the OT and of Jews.

The Text

Though there’s more to Peterson’s commentary than these few points, I will try to give you a small taste of Peterson’s take on Acts.

1.8: Peterson sees this verse as “a prediction and promise of the way [the] divine plan will be fulfilled” (112). Jerusalem (Acts 2-7) comes first, then in Judea and Samaria (8-12), and then to the ends of the earth (13-28).

2.2-4: Peterson comments that the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2 “was a sign that God was about to accomplish a mighty work of renewal” (132). He continues saying that the “Pentecostal gift is God’s empowering presence with his people in a new and distinctive way, revealing his will and leading them to fulfill his purposes for them as the people of the New Covenant (133). He believes that these ‘tongues’ are different than those of 1 Corinthians 12-14, though without providing much evidence for his claim (134).

Ch 6; The Jewish leaders couldn’t stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave Stephen. Only two other references to wisdom are made, Joseph (7.10) and Moses (7.22). Stephen also shares grace and power with these two characters, “suggesting [the] prophetic authority and significance” of Stephen (240). He is “specifically portrayed as experiencing the fulfillment of Luke 21:14-15… [and is] an example for all who are on trial for their faith in Jesus and who trust in his promises” (240).

Ch 7: This chapter brings to a head the “story of the conflict between the Christian mission and the temple authorities… that first appeared in 4:1-3” (244). The Jewish leaders have consistently denied God’s prophets, his law, and ultimately his Righteous One. “Stephen’s ultimate aim is to glorify the exalted Lord Jesus and to convict those who have denied him” (244).

9.1-18; 22.6-18; 26.12-18: Here we see one of the Literary Features of Acts: Narrative Repetition. The reason why these accounts differ in wording or emphasis is because they are told from different perspectives (Luke [9]; Paul [22; 26] to different audiences (Christians reading Acts [9]; Jews [22], King Agrippa [26]).

Recommended?

The Greek Text is transliterated throughout the commentary, and Peterson has a solid grasp on the secondary literature. Peterson is an evangelical who takes the Bible seriously as God’s Word (see his NSBT volume on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification in the Christian). Peterson’s volume would suit the student and teacher quite well. Peterson’s volume would be beneficial for the (not too busy) pastor, although the pastor will want to look elsewhere for more application (e.g., Hughes; Schnabel). 

Lagniappe

  • Series: The Pillar New Testament Commentary
  • Hardcover: 846 pages

Buy it from Amazon or from Eerdmans!

(Special thanks to IVP and SPCK for the review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

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Review: Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (NSBT)

WSATMOTL?

It’s the new year, and perhaps you’ve already started reading your through-the-Bible-in-a-year program. The number one bane of reading through the Bible comes early: Leviticus. Why is it even in the Bible? Just to make Christians thank God we don’t have those laws?

L. Michael Morales, professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, SC, has written the latest volume in the NSBT series. The foundation for this volume can be seen here: Ps 15.1 and 24.3 ask the prime question, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?” The psalmists write about dwelling in God’s house forever (23.6), drinking from the river of his pleasures (36.8-9), and longing to see his face (16.9-11; 26.8). Yet only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. How could dwelling with God be a corporate ideal? Morales says that the dominating concern of Leviticus and of the entire Bible is how humanity will dwell in the house of God. For more on this, read here.

Summary

There are eight chapter in all, four of which are specifically about Leviticus.

Chapter One sees Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch, and the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), as the center of Leviticus.

Chapters Two and Three give the background narrative to Leviticus by looking at the overall story of the exile from and the entrance to God as seen throughout Genesis and Exodus. Moses was a Levite, and with Leviticus forming the center of the Five Books of Moses, we should expect Levitical language and concepts in the other four books. A crisis ends Exodus: God’s presence fills the tent of meeting, but now Moses cannot enter.

In Chapter Four Morales shows how the sacrificial cultus in Leviticus 1-10 was the divinely revealed way for Israel to meet with God, an ascent into his Presence. A crisis ends chapter 10: God’s glorious Presence fills the tabernacle, but Aaron’s two sons are killed in their disobedience.

Chapter Five brings the next section, Leviticus 11-16. Here Morales draws connections between Nadab and Abihu’s death and the Day of Atonement (e.g., both happen on the same day). The intervening cleansing laws (Lev 11-15) sprout from Lev 10.10 — Aaron is to teach Israel to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean. Cleanliness and holiness pervade not only Leviticus, but both Testaments. The Day of Atonement was when the “new Adam entered Eden,” the place where God was, and made atonement for God’s people. The chapter ends with an interesting excursus on Adam’s fall and how he should have reacted. 

Chapter Six covers Israel’s call to holiness (17-22) and the priests’ call (23-25). Israel was to pursue YHWH, their only source of holiness. The goal of holiness was communion and fellowship with God – something those in Genesis and Exodus could not do on a regular basis. Morales makes a good argument that Lev 24.1-9 is a symbolic picture of the Sabbath (cf. Num 6.22-27).

Chapter Seven looks at how Zion is the mountain of God and it is Israel’s inheritance. It is the city of David, it has the purpose of the nations coming to it to meet God, and it will be the “Eden” in Israel’s end days (Isa 2.1-4).

Chapter Eight moves from the earthly to the heavenly Mount Zion. Morales brings out the theology of Leviticus in Hebrews and, primarily, in John’s Gospel. In John, the place to meet God (the Temple) is found in the person of God (Jesus). Jesus is the Temple. In his ascension he went to the Father, and the Spirit descended to make all Christians part of God’s household, that we may be able to ascend the mountain of YHWH.

The Spoiled Milk

My one complaint is when Morales doesn’t give Scriptural references to the connections he makes (though not extremely common). For example, when covering the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-8, Morales changes the names of some of the sacrifices (the burnt offering becomes the ascension offering) to better represent their function. But when he names a few of these newly-named sacrifices together without the references to the Levitical chapter/verse, I don’t know where I’m meant to be looking. However with all that this book does, this is easily overlooked.

Recommended?

Leviticus isn’t a book that Christians should read and say, “Thank God we don’t have to keep those laws anymore.” Leviticus is central to the Pentateuch, and it has atonement at its the center (not to mention at the center of Christian theology too). The theology of Leviticus pervades the OT. The less we understand Leviticus, the less we understand the Bible. Not only does Morales do an incredible job of broadly overviewing Leviticus and connecting the dots between the Testaments, but Morales’ book helps me to want to read the Bible even more. And if a book can help fuel that desire, then it’s worth reading.

This work is in line with both Dempster’s and Beale’s first-rate works in the NSBT series. Both seek to put the entire Scripture together, both shift a few paradigms, and Morales no less accomplishes this feat. I second Carson’s statement that this “will spawn some excellent sermon series on Leviticus!” (8). There are a number of good volumes in the NSBT series, and this is one of the best.

Who should read this? College level and up. Admittedly some parts will be challenging, but the gains are much greater than the losses.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (December 10, 2015)

Posts

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP!

(Special thanks to IVP and SPCK for the review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

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Crouching Demon, Hidden Lamb

Cain

If you do well will not [your countenance] be lifted? If you do not do well, at the door a sin offering is lying down. Now to you will be his desire but you must rule over him – (Gen 4.7).

In the newest NSBT volume Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (my review here), L. Michael Morales surmises that Leviticus is the center of the Pentateuch. In addition, Moses is a Levite and, as the main author of the Pentateuch, we should expect Levitical language to reverberate throughout the other four book of Torah (and the OT). This language centers around the Levitical cultus and priesthood which has the goal of meeting and fellowshipping with God. 

Genesis 4 has presented many (i.e., me) a mind-teaser. First, why are Cain and Abel bringing sacrifices to God? Second, In 4.6-7 God asks, Cain,

Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

Morales has written an article about this topic (which this post took its title from), and I’ll try to summarize part of his argument below. Morales notes how Adoniram Judson, Adam Clarke, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, and Young’s Literal Translation all translated “sin” as “sin offering.” Also, Matthew Henry thought both translations were valid.

Having grown up hearing the traditional teaching of this text, I’ve never thought to question the meaning. But Morales brings up a few questions:

  • Why did the above-mentioned men translate “sin” as “sin offering”? 
  • Why is “sin crouching” at “the door”? If sin is supposed to be personified as some kind of “crouching demon,” where did this supposed demon come from? This character hasn’t shown up in the text yet.
  • What is the “door”? “Is it the door of Cain’s tent, or of his heart? [And] … why do no other examples of such an expression occur in the Hebrew Bible?” (186).

Perhaps we should examine the alternate translation given at the top of the post and the context around Genesis 4.7. As Morales says, “All translation is interpretation, and the key to interpretation is context” (186).

Contextual Clues

Though Genesis 1-3 doesn’t state this explicitly, the rest of the Bible seems to say that the garden of Eden was a sanctuary, the temple of God. Derek Rishmawy presents 9 examples, and a few are given below:

  • God walks in Eden (Gen 3.12), the Tabernacle (Lev 26.12) and the Temple (2 Sam 7.6-7).
  • The Garden of Eden faced eastward (Gen 3.24) as did the Tabernacle (Ex 27.13).
  • Cherubim guarded the entrance to Eden (Gen 3.24), crafted and placed on top of the mercy seat (Ex 25.18), and sewn into the veils of the Tabernacle (Ex 26.1).
  • The description of “Adam’s labor uses verbs (abad “work, serve” and shamar ‘keep, watch, guard,’ Gen 2.15) that are used together in describing the work of Levitical priests (Num 3.7, 8; 8.26; 18.6-7)” (186).
  • Finally, God’s presence was in Eden (Gen 3.12), on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24.15-16), on the Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle (Lev 1.1), and in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8.11).

As Morales argues, it is “the expulsion from Eden is the catalyst which sets the biblical drama of redemption in motion. It explains the logic and necessity of the Israelite system of worship and sacrifice” in that God brings Israel to him through atonement (187).

The Result

As the comparison goes, the “door” of Gen 4.7 would be the entrance to the Edenic-Temple, where God’s presence was. The cherubim guarded this “temple gate” (so that Adam, Eve, and anyone else who wanted to enter, could not do so). “In the tabernacle system, the ‘door’ served as the place where Israelites would come to present their offerings” (187). As Exodus 29.42-43 tells us,

It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.

When Cain refuses to obey God’s command, he is driven away east of Eden (Gen 4.14) like Adam and Eve were (Gen 3.24).

Richard M. Davidson gives a picture of Adam and Eve’s cultic (“religious”) life with God,

After Adam and Eve are expelled, in their sinful state they are no longer able to meet with God face to face in the Garden. . . . The Gate of the Garden becomes the Sanctuary where Adam and Eve and their descendants were to meet with God, worship Him, and bring their sacrifices. Here the Shekinah glory was manifested as God came down to hold communion with them (187).

greenpastures

How is the sin offering “lying down”? In Psalm 23, the psalmist reflects upon YHWH as a shepherd, and “the same root as the participle in Gen 4.7 is used in v. 2: ‘he makes me lie down (rbts) in green pastures.’ Precisely this picture of a lamb or goat (or any animal) lying down tranquilly is the most common image in places where this verb is used throughout the Old Testament” (187).

So at the “door,” or the “entrance” to the garden of Eden where God would meet with the Adam Family, Cain could offer a sin offering. He could lay it down on the altar. “It could be, then, that YHWH had revealed to Cain the means by which he might be restored to divine fellowship, preceisely the same means he would later reveal to Israel through Moses in the book of Leviticus: a sin offering at the sanctuary doorway” (57). Although that would mean Cain would have to take a sheep from his brother Abel, the one who’s offering was accepted by God. And that’s a problem for Cain.

Lego

But as for the rest, you’ll have to read the article (or read Morales’ book!).

Conclusion

There’s more to this argument, but to keep this from getting longer I’ll stop now. I find Morales’ discussion pretty convincing. Although I don’t know Hebrew, and I’m no scholar, the contextual cues that bring Genesis and Leviticus together are plausible. Both the traditional and Morales’ understanding say that Cain could repent, but Morales’ proposal has more meat. Know we know how and where the Adam Family gave sacrifices, and thus how Cain could have repented. However, since Cain refused to obey God’s command, but instead killed Abel, he is driven away east of Eden (Gen 4.14), just like his parents were (Gen 3.24).

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to hear them!

WSATMOTL?

Buy it on Amazon today!

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Is the Whole Trinity Seen in the OT?

I’ve been trying to show how the lines of separation between Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh were blurred in the OT. In my last post we saw how the OT writers portray Yahweh as riding the clouds. He is the ultimate authority. But in the OT there is another who rides the clouds. In one scene we find out that the Son of Man, who we would eventually meet as Jesus in the NT, also rode the clouds. But, these two characters don’t make up a Trinity, only a Binity. In the OT, do the biblical authors blur the lines between Yahweh, the Angel of Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit?

Isa 63.7-10

In Isa 63:7-11, in “an account of the wilderness wanderings, Yahweh is mentioned (v.7) along with the Angel of his presence (v.9). Yahweh was the savior of Israel (v.8), but so was the Angel (v.9)…” (294, n.7).

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior.

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10  But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.

Ps. 78.40-41

“Psa 78:40-41 is a parallel passage to Isa 63:7-11…” (294, n.7).

40  How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!

41  They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

Ezekiel 8.1-6

“In Ezek 8 the prophet sees a divine being in the form of a man (v.2). The being is embodied, since he extends his hand to lift him up (v.3). Later (vv. 5-6), the entity speaks to Ezekiel and refers to the temple as ‘my sanctuary.’” (294, n.7).

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem… And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

“Is the entity the Spirit, who is identified as Yahweh by virtue of his reference to ‘my sanctuary,’ or is he the embodied Yahweh, who seems to have been the Spirit as well?” (294, n.7).

The End

This ends my discussions from Heiser’s book (at least for now… before I review The Unseen Realm). I’ve looked at the Nephilim, the tower of Babel, God allotting the nations to be ruled by other gods, and finally the Trinity as viewed in a few texts from the OT. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed these posts and have learned a lot from them too. Heiser’s book has been one of the most (if not the most) informative book I’ve read this year. Highly recommended. My review will be up next.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

Buy it on Amazon!

UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

Buy it on Amazon!

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How is the Ascension Important?

Ascension Ethiopia

One of the main tenets of Jesus’ life is that after his death and resurrection, he left the disciples and went ascended to heaven where God the Father was. The ascension is amazing considering nobody else did it (though Elijah did go up in a whirlwind to heaven [2Kings 2.11]). 

But why did Jesus go up in a cloud? Was it just so he could return in the same way (Acts 1.11)? Did it prove his divinity in any sort of way? Was it a neat trick, or did it actually do something for believers? (For a connection with YHWH’s divinity, read here). 

L. Michael Morales has an answer. In newest volume of the NSBT series, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (my review here),  Morales presents a biblical theology of… Leviticus, a word that strikes fear into the heart just as a drill brings pain to a tooth. Yet this book is far from boring (really!).

Israel’s Hope

Israel had a deep hope and pleasure to “dwell in the house of YHWH forever” (Ps 23.6) because it is in God’s house where he gives them “drink from the river of [his] pleasures” (Ps 36.8-9). Morales takes the “rivers of pleasure” as an allusion to Eden’s river of life (Gen 2.10; Rev 22.1-2).

Israel longs to dwell in the house of God and, ultimately, to behold YHWH himself (Ps 16.9-11; 26.8; cf. 2 Cor 3.18). Dwelling with YHWH is the one thing the psalmist asks for in Ps 27.4:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

The Crisis

But how is this possible? How can Israel wish to ascend the mountain of God when only Israel’s High Priest could enter into God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies? 

Considering that only the high priest had been allowed entrance in to the holy of holies within the tabernacle and later temple, how is it songs could be sung [by all of Israel] about dwelling in YHWH’s house ‘for ever’ and ‘all the days of my life’? (19).

Psalm 24.3 asks,

Who shall ascend the hill of YHWH? And who shall stand in his holy place?

And similarly, Psalm 25.1,

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

Morales says that the dominating concern of Leviticus and of the entire Bible is how humanity will dwell in the house of God. In Gen 28.12, Jacob sees a vision of the “angels of God” who “were ascending and descending” on a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven. It represented “earthly access to God’s heavenly abode,” the place the builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to reach. Now God is reaching down to Jacob and promising him offspring, land, and that he, YHWH, would be with him (Lev 26.12; 2 Cor 6.16b; Rev 21.3). 

“What Jacob saw was the spiritual archetype of the temple [in Leviticus] — its inner reality and function as the connection between heaven and earth” (162). John 1.14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us.” In John 2.21, Jesus was “speaking about the temple of his body” when he spoke of his resurrection.

The Tie-In

We can see both of these themes in John 1.49-51,

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

It is through Jesus that the Levitical tabernacle, the place where God’s people met God, would transfigured into a person (Jn 4.20-24).

And the Ascension?

After showing the broad themes and structure of Leviticus, Morales shows how its theology of meeting God points to Christ.

“The advent of Christ would open a new and living way into the house of God; indeed, that was the goal of his taking our humanity upon himself, of his suffering, of his resurrection and ascension” (20).

And wouldn’t you know it, but Jesus’ ascension brought him up to God. For Morales, the theology of Leviticus is about “dwelling with God in the house of God, and how that reality is finally made possible” (20). The reality of the Levitical cultus, the tabernacle (and later Temple), the sacrifices, the rituals, etc, were all divinely given so that Israel could meet God, become holy, and be a light to the nations. We now have this in Christ. We are holy. We have God’s Holy Spirit in us, and we belong to God. 


So who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?

By the loving-kindness of the Father, the redemption of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a sure answer has been found: even the church of Jesus Christ (306).

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The Cloud Rider

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One of the biggest threats to God’s people in the OT was another god called Baal. Israel was to be a monotheistic community, a group whose sole devotion was directed towards YHWH only. But as the pages of Scripture repeatedly tell us, Israel didn’t follow the rules.

Baal was the storm and fertility god. So if his followers needed crops, they would pray for rain and grain. In some ways it was easier to be polytheistic, at least for the placebo affect. You don’t just pray to one god because, really, how can one God do it all? So you pray to all gods to get all of your prayers fulfilled.

Yet Baal wasn’t just another face in the crowd. He was one of the higher deities in the polytheistic pantheon. And Israel like to worship him, especially since one form of worship involved sexual rituals. Who could say no to that?

In some of the texts of Ugarit, Israel’s northern neighbor, Baal is called “the one who rides the clouds.” It pretty much became his official title. LeBron James shoots hoops, Baal rides clouds.

Yet, it wasn’t just Baal who rode clouds. To turn all the attention back to Yahweh instead of Baal, the biblical authors “occasionally pilfered this stock description of Baal… and assigned it to Yahweh…” (251). 

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty (Deut 33.26)

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice (Ps 68.32-33)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!… He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire (Ps 104.1-4)

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them (Isa 19.1)

“The effect was to… hold up Yahweh as the deity who legitimately rode through the heavens surveying and governing the world” (252).

Every instance in the OT where someone is riding the clouds, that “someone” is Yahweh. Except, there is… one exception. There is a second figure. A human figure. 

Dan 7.13, The Lone Exception

Daniel 7.13 reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

In the NT we find a number of connections to Jesus. A few are given below:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mk 2.10-11)

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Lk 17.24-25)

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24.26)

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14.61-62)

Here, “Caiaphas understood that Jesus was claiming to be the second Yahweh figure on Daniel 7:13 — and that was an intolerable blasphemy” (253). Along with these Son of Man texts, there are other connections with Jesus and clouds. 

And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1.9).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1.9)

Some form of the Trinity was seen in the OT. Even the Jews around and before the first century were talking about “two powers in heaven.” Yet, once Christians began to elaborate on the Trinity, the Jews declared the “two powers” idea a heresy, and belief that still holds today among Jews.

So far we’ve only looked at these “two powers,” but what about the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit? Are the lines blurred with the Holy Spirit too? Heiser brings up a few texts, and I’ll look at them in my next post.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

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And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

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