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SYMBOLS, SUBSTANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE
A BASIC CASE
Hebrews 10:1 declares this: "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually, year by year, make those who approach perfect."
The meaning is that animal sacrifices, like other presentations in the temple, were not the actualities, the realities, the things that operated in the end for man. They were symbols of the actual, preludes to the realities; and they showed to the ready mind, the kind of thing that to come along with the whole atmosphere and ground in the will and mind of God. The Christ to come brought all this to its final meaning, to what it was there to symbolise, and this Christ would be regarded as the 'substance', the true operative and gift of God, of which these preludes were a shadow, an introduction at a distance, an index, merely an indication: blessed but preliminary.
The SIGNIFICANCE was in many layers: thus the GIFT of the Only Begotten Son of God showed the depth of His love and the horrors it met in man, to redeem Him. It exhibited what man SHOULD be, by His taking human form, but sadly was not! It provided the paternal concern in making the remedy so simple to GAIN, and His profound compassion in taking the hard part for Himself. There was much in the symbol, or shadow, more in the substance, or the reality which cast this shadow, in this case, Christ and Him crucified, and it lifted the eyes of faith to see the significance of that reality.
SEEK FIDELITY TO THE CONTEXT AND NOT PHILOSOPHIC RAMBLING PARTIES
This morning Lord willing, we hope to cover at least much of the following parallel sites with the shadow, or prelude, or symbol, on the one hand, and on the other, the substance or reality or actuality needed and the significance of the same, avoiding dull blindness and adventurism alike.
1) Thus there is the case in Matthew 11:1-19. John the Baptist had sought confirmation from Christ of His Messianic role, and Christ replied by reference to the unique works required of the Messiah, a simple verification for John, who was in dire straits! He then eulogised John before the people, and declared him the one predicted in Malachi 3:1,"Behold I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You." Malachi has much to say on the Messiah in both Mal. 3 and 4. Then Christ went further in the area of symbol: "And if you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
THIS Elijah, HE had come already Christ indicated, and they had done to him what they would, as written in Mark 9:12-13. Now some might say, There is no symbol here, and the Bible had predicted the return of Elijah. But firstly, that is contrary to the general resurrection to come as in Isaiah 26:19, which is a matter of the entire body of Christ in one bloc ! What in fact you get is a figure in one domain used to signify another, to come, as a sort of prop or stimulus or implicit parallel. So in Zechariah 4, you have Joshua the High Priest dressed up in such a way as to indicate him a sinner indeed (Zech. 3:3), but one who would be redeemed by One of whom he was but a shadow, the One who could forgive sins. Jesus Christ ( Zechariah 3:8-9). Of Him, Joshua now dressed in symbolic robes, is a "SIGN". He is used to convey the essence of the coming Messiah who would not merely be dressed in this way or that, but ACT out what the symbols really indicated.
Accordingly, in Mark, when Jesus spoke of John the Baptist as the predicted Elijah, as noted, He also indicates a telling fact. THIS Elijah hds already come and they had done to them what they wished! In other words, John came in the power and commission parallel to that remarkable prophet Elijah (Luke 1:17, in the "spirit and power of that prophet), who had come as the kingdom of Israel was in gross arrears before God through ridiculous rebellions. Christ showed that he had ALREADY come as written of him, in preparing the way for Himself. Alas, they had also taken negative action to rebut, abort or frustrate what he had to do; but they did not and could not. With this explanation, we have no door for dubiety: What John had to do, in the spirit and power of Elijah, he had done, and how he had been assaulted for it! With Luke 1:17 and Mark 9:13, we KNOW that the term Elijah here is used as a shadow, figure and portent for John the Baptist, and any other possible reading is in flat contradiction, ignoring the distinctive career of this new 'Elijah' and the scripture alike.
The significance is that utterly rejected as Elijah was by the powers that be, so was it so with John, and by reflecting on the former you see the significance of John, an epochal testimony to vast fields to come, grasping the imagination in terms of his predecessor, and the present in terms of the power divinely accorded to him. Indeed, there are several other notable cases of such a symbol-substance, shadow-reality relationship, either of what is there, or without warrant, what people would like to put it there. Sometimes this is merely aborting the meaning of the Bible, just as the Pharisees did with their traditions. Such cases are found in various scriptures.
2) Next, we find in John 2,16,19 Christ referring to His body as The Temple in this way. "Destroy," He cried, "this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Nicodemus took just minutes! Now the destruction in view to be attempted was clearly here of Himself, whom they were menacing with evil plots, like a Mafia. Here was a deep challenge: Go to the utmost you scheming murderers, kill Me, but you will by no means prevail even then, for the more successful your fateful plots, the more notorious I will be, staggeringly to be raised up in 3 days.
It is not as if the stone temple were so rebuilt, or that He would destroy that! The clue is that they would never destroy their own Temple because of the issue, their hatred of Him, but only to Himself would their evils reach. Destroy His body, then in three days as He so often declared, He would restore it. Thus there was nothing they could do, though infuriated exactly in the spirit of Psalm 2! As to the stone temple, HE Himself predicted its unutterable fall, not His rebuilding it! His irony was intense: the symbol they would seek to preserve, but the substance, the Lord and Redeemer Himself, this they would seek to delete! So it was.
3) A further example in found Galatians 6:16, where the Church in this setting is "the Israel of God." It is what the dictionary calls an 'extension'. The phrase "of God" exhibits the extension. It normally means the covenantal nation, but here something else BY EXTENSION. This is from the Old Covenant, a body kept by the power of God, despite massive disciplines, Israel, to the usage to signify another body, that of Christians, in terms of which this epistle has been dealing. In Romans 11:25ff., however, some seek to extend the word 'Israel' to go beyond the emphatic context, that is, the non-figurative Israel. This has been used In definitional terms, the major topic of the whole Chapter, Romans 11. Indeed, their fall is likened to a cutting off of a branch from a tree. What asks Paul, if this be their fall, will be the joy at their restoration (Romans 11:20)! Continuity of concept is the essence of the entire depiction.
In this last verse, not only is Israel seen in the topical analogy of a branch in a tree, but she is also contrasted with the other nations (the Gentiles), in this, that while she is taken OUT of the tree, they are grafted IN to it. The RESTORATION of Israel, so taken OUT, when the time comes, brought BACK in, is made a subject of exalted delight by observers. To be sure, Israel's failure was a great set-back, but this granted, what would be the delight in her return! The same is true of the oft en multiply defined term 'Israel' in various contexts, such as Ezekiel 36-37, Daniel 7, Deut. 32, Micah 7.
CAVEAT AND THE REWARDS OF FIDELITY
4) While one can extend a term if the indications are clear, to do so when they are not so, and in defiance of what does appear, is mere unbiblical romancing. Isaiah 66 for example as in the cases noted, refers to a nation which was taken in by the Lord, sinned against Him, was shown compassion by Him, then defended by Him, and this in such a way (to come as predicted) that Gentiles (defined as non-Israelites) will rejoice together with this same uniquely defined body. The transition as in Isaiah 59, 66, Micah 7, Joel 3, Habakkuk 3, Daniel 7, is by divine power, and the prelude is gross dereliction under the powers of blatant, blasphemous and belligerent evil. NOBODY and
no group, created the universe, but God; and
none brought is salvation but He (Isaiah 43:10-11); and
nobody will quell the Satanic powers to come (as in II Thessalonians 2), but He.
HE does all these works for His people; it is not His people in any of them, who do them for Him! That is more than mixed: it is almost buffoonery, since it extends the unique, and ignores the definitions, to the point that you need a total evacuation of meaning, to sanction such novelties. No one but God is in action in the epochal transformations by sheer power and militant, transformative impact in Deuteronomy 32;39ff., Isaiah 59:15ff., Revelation 19, II Thessalonians 1 and 2, Daniel 7:11f.,21-22, Micah 7:15ff., Joel 3:13 and Habakkuk 3:13ff.. So on the Cross does He, one of the Trinity, save, in creation, does the Trinity create and in the finale, it is this same God of creation and salvation who delivers, and in all, it is He alone!
Man can be very valiant but he does not create the universe and himself in it! nor does he redeem himself with his self-exalting pride (Ephesians 2, Romans 3, Micah 2-3, Hebrews 9-10), nor yet again redeem the world from its infestation in high places with the devil, as in the feet of the image in Daniel 2, shattered by none but the stone which then becomes paramount, even Christ. The saints accompany the Lord as in Revelation 19, but the sword is from the mouth of one born of a virgin, the WORD OF GOD, and even the most ambitious pseudo-saint can scarcely pretend to be that; and if he would, then the difference between infinite power and infinite pride becomes obvious enough (cf. Revelation 19:21, II Thessalonians 2:8).
Thus now as then, they make void the word of God by their traditions. These cohesive topics present mere extension-itis, and reflect the need NOT to become intoxicated with imagination. In interpreting such matters, you do not leap to conclusions, but allow the context to guide you to the meaning.
5) Another quite parallel case is found in the 'day' term in Genesis 1, in the context, 1-11.The obvious intent of the passage is to place the reader in the theme, atmosphere and setting, perspective and understanding of a testimony to the beginning of the heaven and earth, in terms of a whole series of generations, from celestial founder to generations far off. Just as important figures like Noah or Adam, have generations, follow-throughs, and are to be seen in this simple overview, so does heaven and earth have its own generation (as in Gen. 2:1-4). It was a matter of the ultimate Generator, who not by partuition but through founding actions by His word, generated heaven and earth, then by the power of His word, made the entirety meaningful to man, who then in his own generations continued to be tested, the whole an exposition of WHO God is, through WHAT He did.
This series of generations, first of the universe and earth, then of the earth apart, and later of the heavens apart, as in the verse 7ff., and 14ff., next of the persons, of their sin and of their rebuke, moving on to the generations of families, so on to the ordinary, as in Abraham, is a coherent whole. It has but one vocabulary, one use of terms as morning evening, day, generation, and this continues unflappable into the ensuing Chapter. What we know, and what we do not, is in this way given systematic form and format. We move in known terms in known environments of terms, to personal and family. We RECEIVE this perspective and the indications of the merging into our current set of defined areas, because such is the teaching (cf. Gen. 2:1ff., Matthew 19:4). So it was all FINISHED, in a simple set-up with profound results, as generation to generation went on.
The fact that 'evening and morning', and ordinal numbers in these areas are never used except of ordinary days (not extended meanings such as epochs) merely gives grammatical corroboration. We are not finding here a double-tongued, confusingly diffuse use of terms, but an explanation in terms precisely useful because they do not need to be recast arbitrarily, but may be applied with the utmost felicity. Moving beyond this would be like sending Columbus to America (as it turned out to be), without actually telling him land was in view. But he was told what to do, and set about doing it, and when it was done, no more transformational novelties entered, but just a continuance proceeded. If you believe that God who make you able to speak, does not meet your literary standards, and so wish to have a doubly defined work of ambiguity, at which you can throw scorn, then you are more than welcome. In fact, the passage is self-explanatory, straightforward and embracive of the facts that are visible in the created universe, as in the created history.
In fact, nothing like these initial creations happens now, just as Genesis indicates: God finished it. Those things happened fast (a fact of great concern to Professor Stephen Jay Gould as in Wake Up World! ... Chs. 4-6) and cohesively, so meeting mutual needs readily, and their functions have been harassed in time, rather than extended, as in the curse of Genesis 3, just as Professor Sanford of Cornell University has shown in his work on the genome of man - it is failing more and more! Creation is not done by destruction after all, any more than writing an essay is done by putting failed drafts into the waste-paper basket, far less when the failed ones are not even there to see!
So we take what is coming clearly and unequivocally from the word of God, often eloquently indeed, when it is without constraining or compelling contrary ground, and when it is surrounded with criteria of clear definition. In this way, if we were to take it emptily and directly contrarily to what it says, then it is like an earthquake, with its epicentre in the will of man. In the case of day, or Israel, Elijah, definitions are decisive, as is history. Contradiction is NOT a good means of any sound reasoning.
Thus 6) when Israel as in Zechariah 12, at last returns as a nation, after ultra-long non-repentance (like a branch cut out of the tree), and STILL is not converted, here is a case where extending to confuse it to mean the Church, when unconverted Israel has already been shown in place for a long series of highly dramatic wars, followed by their seeing the form of Him whom they crucified and so repenting openly, find cleansing from sin, we have not merely a gratuitous extension of meaning to something else.
It implodes into self-contradiction. If "Israel" MUST compulsively mean the Church, for some obstructionist unreason, then in Zech. 12, you would have a body which was UNCONVERTED in many major actions over time back in Jerusalem, REPRESENTING the converted, against which the gates of hell will not prevail. That is flat self-contradiction. In Acts 15, where there is an undoubted strikingly imaginative figure, in the phrase "the tabernacle of David," which had "fallen down," but would be restored so that all peoples could be reached with the word of God, there is the obvious use of the national for the transnational in the very statement. The clue is commanding, just as Amos 9, from which this is taken, goes on in 9:14-15, also to cover the specific Israel case in its land.
Nothing can remove either the place of grace for Israel or their promised place of occupancy, for a testimonial people of distinctive history and definition, as in Micah 7, Isaiah 59, Ez. 36-37, Zech. 12 and Genesis 17:7-8. A specific imagery is not an exterminator of promise of premises. There is both a final spiritual Gospel resting place for one as for all, and a promised national site for Israel. Extermination of either one or the other, is simply to cut out history in the interests of blundering philosophy, which are vain (Col. 2:8)
The wonder of the word of God in its precision and everlasting competence is this, that nothing may be changed (as if E=MC3 was an option), without loss, and all is coherent as a body, and history follows it like a lamb.
It is simply wonderful how well the word of God both fits with itself and depicts history in advance, when you do not act to destroy its meaning by traditions (as in Mark 7:7, and in some of the examples above). Think of Calvin trying to make Matthew 23:37 of Christ seeking for Jerusalem as a hen her chicks, when whatever the Father did, the Son did in like manner, and He spoke what His Father commanded (John 5:19ff., 12:48-50). Let us not reduce factualities to context contradicting inventions for ANY reason, but rejoice in the accuracy of the word of God, which explains in principle all mysteries and gives the solution to all problems, personal or otherwise. Here is the inviolate word of God to sinning man, to come home, come back, repent and receive the reconciliation Christ achieved, freely. You do not need an extension of meaning, only a willing heart, not one which always resists the Holy Spirit as Stephen charged (Acts 7). However astray man is, he is not beyond God, who knows how to lead him home again, not in salvation tasting as in Hebrews 6, but in heart and life!